Liam Schwartz of Liam Schwartz & Associates takes an in-depth look Israel's migration policy:
"While some initial steps are being taken to create a climate of greater openness to global employee mobility, it could still be some time before Israel has a proper inbound migration policy."
Global migration professionals seeking to transfer key personnel to Israel for the first time are often surprised to learn that Israel is the only Western democracy without a proper global migration policy.
Since its founding in 1948, Israel has emerged as a key player on the global business stage, particularly in the high-tech, science-based and homeland security industries. As a result, the need on the part of international firms to send key personnel to Israel has been steadily growing. Regrettably, Israel’s immigration-related laws have not kept pace with the challenges of global corporate migration; indeed, these laws are still firmly linked to Israel’s founding mission of encouraging the return of the Jewish diaspora to the Biblical Jewish homeland.
A recent Israeli academic study put it this way:
“Israel has no modern immigration laws, its government agencies are not prepared to meet the challenges of the modern global economy, and there is no strategic planning or vision; long-term goals or objectives have not been set and there are no reliable data on which policy could be based. This current reality is the result of ad-hoc decisions made arbitrarily by government clerks acting without guidance from above.”
Accordingly, global migration professionals are best advised to approach Israel-bound employee assignments with a drop of historical understanding and a bucket of present-day patience.
Israel and Global Corporate Migration in 2014
Israeli immigration law generally provides for only one type of non-immigrant work status: the B-1 visa category. While this single category itself is divided into a number of sub-categories (for example, agricultural workers, nursing professionals, hotel workers and so on), two subcategories are most relevant to global corporate migration: foreign experts, and managers, senior representatives or employees in positions of personal trust.
B-1 foreign experts
The basic eligibility requirements for the B-1 foreign experts sub-category include: possession of specialised knowledge and skills; salary and other benefits with a value of at least double the Israeli prevailing wage; creation by the proposed position of local employment opportunities; and an advanced level of education as evidenced by a baccalaureate degree from a recognised institution of higher education.
Traditionally, the B-1 foreign experts subcategory has been appropriate for degreed professionals and corporate transferees. Global firms typically utilise this subcategory for positions such as business consultants, IT specialists, team leaders, field engineers and technicians. The foreign experts subcategory is also an attractive option for mid-to-lower level managers coming to Israel to lead efforts involving a specific project or product.
The lack of clarity in Israeli global migration policy has its upside, as seen by a recent trend on the part of visa adjudicators to approve B-1 foreign expert petitions involving a wide variety of non-traditional positions for projects in “the national interest”. (The definition of this term is dynamic, and often comes down to creative advocacy.) Indeed, over the past two years adjudicators have applied a liberal level of scrutiny of petitions for key personnel involved in “national interest” projects. For example, global energy companies – both those working on offshore rigs and those developing solar energy solutions in the Negev desert – have benefited from this flexibility and, as a result, workers in positions including electricians, surveyors and solar panel installers have been granted B-1 foreign expert status.
B-1 managers, senior representatives or “trust” employees
For purposes of this subcategory, B-1 managers are generally senior-level personnel sent to Israel to establish the goals and policies of a domestic firm, and to supervise and control the work of subordinate local and international workers. Accordingly, foreign nationals assigned to Israeli firms in the position of president, chief executive officer, chief operating officer and the like, are traditional candidates for B-1 manager status.
More recently, a growing number of global firms have sought to place individuals in Israel to act as their local “eyes and ears”. These firms include, for example, international communications firms that have entered into agreements with Israeli business partners for the local development of next-generation technologies for use in upgrading product offerings. These individuals – the “eyes and ears” of the international business partner – may qualify for B-1 visas as a “senior representative” or “employee in a position of personal trust.”
This subcategory is notable for one specific advantage and one specific disadvantage. The advantage is that the global firm itself may sponsor the B-1 petition on behalf of a manager, senior representative or “trust” employee; thus, even a firm without a formal presence in Israel may sponsor an employee for an Israeli B-1 work visa. The disadvantage is that only two individuals may be employed under this subcategory by a given firm at any one time.
Current B-1 timelines
The ability of international companies to transfer key personnel to Israel within fixed timelines is impacted by the lack of a defined migration policy. The process for obtaining a B-1 work visa, and its current timelines, are described below.
Step 1: The sponsoring employer files an underlying petition with the Ministry of Interior’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA). Information including a description of the global firm, the proposed employee’s professional qualifications and the offered salary is attached. The timeline for adjudication of this initial petition is approximately two months.
Step 2: Following the initial petition approval, the employer files a Request for Consular Notification with the local office of the Ministry of Interior (MOI) having jurisdiction over the proposed place of employment. The nature of this application is a request that the appropriate Israeli consulate abroad be authorised to issue a B-1 entry visa to the proposed foreign employee. The timeline for completion of this Consular Notification request is approximately seven to 10 days.
Step 3: The proposed employee submits a visa application at the local Israeli consulate. In the scope of this visa application procedure, the individual undergoes a brief interview with the Israeli consul, and the consulate initiates security checks with regard to the individual. Certain Israeli consulates, such as those in China, require medical examinations as a condition for visa issuance. The employee will generally receive a single-entry visa valid for 30 days from issuance.
Step 4: Within 30 days of entry to the country, the individual applies at the local MOI office for a multiple-entry B-1 visa stamp, valid for the duration of PIBA approval (generally one year).
Going forward, B-1 visa status may be renewed for consecutive one-year periods, for a maximum stay in Israel of five years.
Other Israeli Corporate Migration Updates
New investor visa
In April 2014, the Israeli government approved the creation of a new visa classification for temporary investors. The impetus for this new visa was the law signed by US President Barack Obama which added Israel to the list of countries eligible for E-2 treaty investor visas. Regulations implementing the new visa classification are expected to be issued during the summer months of 2014.
The new investor visa will be initially available to American firms and individual investors, and ultimately to investors from other countries providing reciprocal visa treatment.
This visa will be a seminal event in the development of Israeli migration policy. Although the scope of the implementing regulations is not yet known, it appears that, for the first time, temporary work visas will be issued for an initial validity period of five years, with the opportunity to renew the visa for an additional five years (compare this with the current system of one-year validity visas with a maximum five-year stay). Another ground-breaking development will apparently be the availability of employment authorisation for the accompanying spouse of a foreign investor. Israel will, of course reserve the right to deny visas to foreign investors who are nationals of countries considered “hostile” under Israeli security-related laws.
The new investor visa will include provisions requiring applicant companies and individuals to demonstrate the present or future capacity of the investment enterprise to make a significant economic contribution to the Israeli economy. Local job creation will be considered the most “significant” such contribution.
B-1 for Jewish employees
While still rooted in the 1948 Jewish Return policy, one recent development in the context of Israeli corporate migration is the creation of a B-1 work visa process for foreign nationals of Jewish heritage. Under this special process, foreign nationals of the Jewish faith are entitled to an expedited B-1 work visa procedure. The expressed goal of this process is to encourage Jews living abroad to consider immigrating to Israel.
New Immigration Appeals Court
In response to blistering criticism from the Israeli Supreme Court on the ad hoc nature of work visas and other immigration adjudications, the Israeli government recently established an Immigration Appeals Court. This new body permits companies and foreign nationals to promptly seek judicial relief following adverse decisions made by Israel’s immigration authorities.
The Hebrew word for “patience” is “sovlanoot”; it is this that is often needed for successful transfers of key personnel to Israel. In order to meet corporate timelines and expectations, professionalism is also needed to navigate B-1 applications through the void created by the lack of a fixed migration policy,
While some initial steps are being taken to create a climate of greater openness to global employee mobility, it could still be some time before Israel has a proper inbound migration policy. Still, miracles have been known to happen in the Holy Land, and so with some prayer, sovlanoot and professionalism, Israel will hopefully become adept at facilitating quick and efficient global employee transfers in the near future.