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November 1995, Volume 2, Number 11

Israeli Immigration and Guest Workers

Israel is a country peopled largely by immigrants. Since its establishment in 1948, some 2.5 million immigrants arrived, and 70,000 per year are expected to arrive in the next decade, meaning that immigration will add 1.3 percent to its 5.5 million population every year via immigration, one of the highest rates of immigration in the world.

Some 700,000 immigrants, mostly from the ex-USSR, arrived in the past five years.

There are currently 72,000 mostly Thai and Romanian guest workers on two-year contracts in Israel, including 43,000 in construction and 12,000 in agriculture. The Romanians report that the $550 monthly they earn in Israel is almost six times the $100 monthly they could expect to earn at home.

Israeli employers began to import Arab workers from the West Bank and Gaza after the 1967 war. At the peak, 120,000 Arab workers from these areas were employed on a daily or weekly basis in Israel, including 72,000 legal commuter workers. Beginning in 1994, Israel turned to non-Arab foreign workers, after failing to get unemployed Israelis to substitute for the banned Arab workers.

Some question Israel's replacement of Arabs with other foreign workers, arguing that Israel can never be secure if it has thousands of unemployed Arabs on its borders. Even the new guest workers cause problems--Romanians have taken to drinking beer in their off hours in Jerusalem.

Each day in Gaza, a rectangle of 147 square miles, the 16,800 workers who do have permits to work in Israel but are barred from entering Israel cost the territory $1 to $2 million. It has been estimated that each Arab worker employed in Israel supports 20 dependents.

"Israel's immigrants," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 24, 1995. Alan Sipress, "Russian Jews Often Find Disappointment in a Wary Israel," Philadelphia Inquirer, October 16, 1995. Serge Schmemann, "With Arabs barred, New hands go to work in Israel," International Herald Tribune, August 15, 1995.