The lack of bilateral trade agreements (which assure maintenance of interests of both country of origin and the state of Israel) creates a broken market, in which manpower companies profit at the expense of migrants, and the degree to which this occurs is not kept in check. In a recent report including responses from over 830 caregivers, all caregiving workers who came to Israel paid “mediation fees” in exchange for an Israeli work visa. Brokerage fees are paid in cash and are unreported, in addition to being an illegal practice in Israel. The fees make up a sum of hundreds of millions of shekels that is coming into Israel without knowledge of the authorities. Read the report here.
In the past, it was thought that migrant workers pay the full sum of brokerage fees in their country of origin, but according to the survey’s findings, caregivers often pay a large part of the fees in Israel, sometimes even all of it. In 2013, 46% of workers said they paid brokerage fees in Israel. The average brokerage fee today is about $8,400. In the last five years the average brokerage fee jumped by approximately $2,400. The average fee paid by men is approximately $10,400, as there is low demand for men in the caregiving field, which is made up of 80% women.
The payments these workers have to make in order to “purchase” the work visa are astronomical in terms of their country of origin’s economy, and thus they are forced to borrow money from family or community members. Of the workers who came to Israel in 2011, a third is still paying off their debts, and of workers that came to Israel in 2012, 59% have yet paid their debt back in full. While paying back their debt, many of the caregivers will do anything in their power to keep their jobs, at times at the price of harsh exploitation and even sexual and physical violence.
Idit Lebovitch, Coordinator of Caregiving Workers at Kav LaOved, has articulated the issue recently in a conference on the issue, “Collection of brokerage fees is happening across the sea, but right here. The fact that almost half of workers paid these funds here in Israel should trouble the responsible authorities in Israel, and mostly the police and the tax authorities. Along with criminal enforcement, Israel should be encouraged to sign bilateral agreements with the countries of origin, while keeping in mind the wellbeing of the migrant workers, their employers and Israel, and not the manpower companies’ gigantic profits.”