The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking; however, government policies towards many foreign workers were insufficient to address their vulnerability to trafficking. NATU within the Ministry of Justice continued to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts among relevant ministries and NGOs during the reporting period; NATU had nine staff members in 2021, including the national coordinator, two legal advisors, an intern, three law students, one secretary, and one national service volunteer. NGOs reported that while NATU demonstrated political will and was knowledgeable about trafficking, it was not always effective influencing other parts of the government and lacked the resources to fully meet its mandate. The government maintained its 2019-2024 NAP to combat human trafficking. However, for the third consecutive year, the government did not finalize its implementation plan nor allocate additional funds for the NAP. Throughout 2021, the four inter-ministerial teams, each focusing on key objectives outlined in the NAP, held discussions with NGOs, civil society organizations, and government stakeholders; the teams presented their recommendations to the Committee of Directors General for approval in September 2021. One of the four inter-ministerial teams was tasked with conducting research on the scope and characteristics of trafficking in Israel; the government approved the team’s research plan during the reporting period and provided a budget. Unlike previous years, the Knesset did not re-establish the Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women and Prostitution; however, the Knesset established a committee on migrant workers, which discussed labor trafficking, among other issues. While the government produced an annual report on its anti-trafficking efforts and regularly updated information on NATU’s website, the report was not publicly available; NGOs reported difficulty obtaining information on the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, and the government did not respond to most information requests from NGOs. The government conducted various national awareness-raising campaigns, including education programs for students, national television commercials, radio broadcasts, and lectures for government officials, shelter staff, and academics. In May 2021, Israel acceded to the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings.
376A of the Penal Law 5737-1977 prohibited holding a person’s passport against their will and carried a penalty of three to five years’ imprisonment; the government did not report specific law enforcement action under this law during the reporting year. In 2021, the Ministry of Economy and Industry (MOEI), which employed 210 labor inspectors, issued 196 administrative warnings, imposed 45 fines totaling 5.27 million shekels ($1.7 million), and filed two indictments for labor violations involving child labor that resulted in five convictions; in 2020, the MOEI issued 196 administrative warnings, imposed 66 fines totaling 9.96 million shekels ($3.2 million), and filed two indictments for labor violations. In addition, through MOEI inspections, employers returned 829,120 shekels ($267,540) of withheld wages to foreign workers in 2021. Authorities opened 489 criminal investigations and filed 114 indictments against employers of foreign workers for suspected violations of labor laws; courts rendered 69 sentences with sanctions and compensation totaling approximately 5.35 million shekels ($1.73 million). This represented an increase from 2020 when the government opened 1,145 criminal investigations for suspected violations of labor laws, filed 94 indictments, and rendered 77 sentences with sanctions and compensation totaling 3.7 million shekels ($1.19 million). NGOs continued to report there were not enough labor inspectors, especially in the construction and agricultural sectors, to sufficiently monitor and enforce labor laws. Additionally, NGOs reported the government did not effectively regulate foreign contracting companies (“Hevrot Bitzua”), nor did it effectively prevent the exploitation of foreign workers in the construction and agriculture sectors recruited outside of established BWAs. In 2021, the government implemented new BWAs with the Philippines and Sri Lanka in home-based long-term care sectors and with Nepal and Georgia in the institutionalized long- term care sector. The government maintained BWAs with 10 other countries for agriculture, construction, caregiving, and domestic work sectors; in 2021, 9,387 of the 31,370 foreign workers who arrived in Israel did so through these agreements. Foreign workers recruited under BWAs had triplicate standardized labor contracts held by the worker, employer, and the government. Private Israeli recruitment agencies could not charge worker-paid recruitment fees in the domestic caregiving sector, and worker-paid recruitment fees were capped at 2,814 shekels ($910) in the agricultural sector; the government did not report other actions to prohibit worker-paid recruitment fees. While Israeli law required employers of foreign workers to provide detailed labor contracts in a language the worker understands, there was not adequate government oversight to ensure contracts for workers not covered by BWAs met labor standards, which left workers vulnerable to exploitative employment practices, including long work hours, violations of work and living conditions, and exploitative promissory notes. NGOs reported foreign workers often paid exorbitant fees to recruitment agencies in their country of origin or the Israeli manpower agency; NGOs reported many foreign workers financed the fees through high interest rate loans from informal or illicit lenders in Israel, further increasing workers’ vulnerability to trafficking.
While most foreign workers could change employers without their previous employers’ permission, foreign construction workers were limited to being able to change employers on a specified date each quarter and otherwise required employers’ permission to change employers. However, workers employed by foreign contracting companies (“Hevrot Bitzua”), primarily in the construction sector, were not authorized to change employers unless it was to another foreign contracting company. PIBA procedures for recruitment agencies in the caregiving sector continued to require every agency to hire a licensed social worker responsible for supervising the conditions of foreign caregivers, including home visits, and for informing relevant authorities about labor violations. While the government contended that workers’ visas were not tied to a specific employer, government policies restricted foreign caregivers’ ability to change employers by allowing them to work only in a specific geographical area, preventing them from changing employers more than three times, and preventing them from changing employers after being in Israel for 63 months. In 2021, the government reported 13,734 requests to change employers in the caregiving sector were denied due to technical reasons including those previously outlined. NGOs also reported that if a foreign caregiver abruptly left their employer, including due to physical or sexual violence, government policy allowed employers to unilaterally revoke their visa, and foreign caregivers were not entitled to an immigration hearing. PIBA continued implementing a new policy regarding Palestinian work permits in the construction, industry, and service sectors to allow Palestinian workers to change employers more easily; however, NGOs reported the new policy did not take sufficient steps to inform Palestinian workers about the policy change or implement mechanisms to facilitate the job search process and left Palestinian workers vulnerable to labor violations.
The government continued returning deducted wages to workers after the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in April 2020 the “Deposit Law” (article 4 of the Prevention of Infiltration Law), which required employers to deposit a certain percentage of undocumented migrants’ wages—including those of identified trafficking victims—into a fund that migrant workers could not access until they departed the country. Workers could request their deducted wages be returned through PIBA’s website. As of December 2021, the government returned more than 212 million shekels ($68.41 million) to 14,712 workers; the government coordinated with an international organization to advertise the website to encourage an additional 3,070 workers to request the return of their funds. However, the government did not report whether any investigations were opened during the reporting period into employers who deducted funds from 231 workers but did not deposit funds. In October 2020, the MLSS rejected proposals by Knesset members to require the government to repay money owed to workers or to provide workers with legal assistance to sue their employers; for the second consecutive year, the government did not address how to return money owed to this group of workers. The government continued to incentivize undocumented African migrants to “voluntarily” depart Israel to third countries in Africa, which included a paid plane ticket in most cases and a $3,500 stipend in some cases; however, NGOs and an international organization confirmed that migrants who arrived in a third country in Africa did not receive residency or employment rights upon arrival.
The government did not have a trafficking-specific hotline. PIBA, in collaboration with an NGO, continued to operate a 24-hour hotline to assist foreign workers who were in Israel under bilateral agreements. The hotline employed 13 interpreters in seven languages: Chinese, Thai, Russian, Nepali, Sinhalese, Ukrainian, and Tagalog. In 2021, the hotline received 3,603 calls; similar to previous years, the majority of calls were from People’s Republic of China (PRC) national construction workers (2,323 calls). In 2020, the hotline received 2,874 calls including 1,828 calls from PRC national construction workers. There was no comparable hotline for documented migrant workers who worked in Israel through private recruitment, nor for Palestinian workers in Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The Child Protection Bureau Hotline, which handled online offenses against children, reported addressing 11,771 cases in 2021, an increase from around 10,000 in 2020; however, the hotline did not report identifying any suspected cases of trafficking. The government made efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex acts by coordinating an online awareness campaign stating consumption of commercial sex is illegal in Israel, in both Hebrew and Arabic. In addition, courts could sentence individuals found guilty of purchasing commercial sex to participate in educational workshops instead of paying a fine. The government did not report efforts to prevent child sex tourism.