Under Israeli law, the employment of a foreign employee who is not a citizen or resident of Israel is a criminal offense, except if the person requesting to employ the foreign employee received a special permit from the Population and Immigration Authority (the "Authority") pursuant to the Foreign Workers Law, 5751-1991. Accordingly, employers who wish to employ foreign employee in Israel in positions that demand training or special skills are required to submit a request for a permit to employ a foreign expert. The process of issuing a permit to employ a foreign expert is complex and often takes a significant period of time. In addition, this process involves significant expenses for the employer.
In the current global economy, foreign representatives often visit Israel for various commercial purposes, such as consultation, negotiations, business conferences, lectures and training. In such cases, the question arises: Are these representatives "foreign experts", for whom their employers in Israel must complete the complex process of obtaining a work permit; or are they business visitors who are permitted to carry out their activities in Israel under a regular tourist visa (known as a "B/2 visa").
The distinction between an "employee" and a "business visitor" is not a simple one to make, and cases are often fall within the grey area between the two. For years, the law and the guidelines on the subject did not contribute to clarify the legal condition, and often employers were left wondering whether they were required to obtain a work permit for business visitors from abroad.
An updated guideline published by the Authority on December 19, 2016, (the "Guideline") aims to resolve the uncertainty on this matter by listing a number of cases in which permits are either required or not. This Guideline provides for an expedited process for the handling of requests to employ foreign experts for a period of up to 45 days in a year (On condition that the expert holds a passport from a country whose citizens are exempt from the requirement of obtaining a visa to enter Israel. The list of these countries is in the first schedule of the Entry into Israel Order (Visa Exemption), 5734-1974). The Authority undertook that requests submitted under the expedited process would be answered within 6 days.
According to the Guideline, there is an obligation to obtain a permit when the expert arrives for the "purpose of executing a temporary and passing task that requires expertise or special skills, such as the execution of repairs of equipment supplied by the company which employs the expert abroad". For example, if an airline company operating in Israel wishes to call a foreign engineer in order to handle a malfunction of an aircraft, under the Guideline, the airline company is required to request a permit for the engineer's employment from the Authority.
However, the Guideline provides that a work permit is not required for a foreign citizen who wishes to visit Israel for a short period for the purpose of seeking out investment opportunities, participation in negotiations, business meetings, etc.; such activities can be done in the framework of a stay in Israel under a regular tourist visa.
It is noted that an earlier version of the Guideline provided that the issuance of a work permit was also required for foreign citizens vising Israel for the purpose of providing consultation, supervision, lectures and training. These items were deleted from the updated version of the Guideline. However, it is not clear whether the Authority's intention was that these undertakings are exempt from the work permit request requirement – as such the uncertainty on this matter has yet to be resolved.
In addition, it should be clarified that an entity requesting to employ a foreign expert in Israel for a period of more than 45 days in a year, is required to act in accordance with the full procedure for obtaining a work permit for a foreign expert. The Authority's guidelines describe the types of foreign experts whose employment will be permitted in Israel, including managers or senior representatives in a foreign or international company, senior staff in a foreign airline or shipping company, diamond workers, foreign artists and other experts who earn "expert's salary" which is at least twice the average monthly salary in Israel (currently, the amount is equal to NIS 18,600).
Our firm has extensive experience in advising employers on the process of obtaining work permits for foreign experts in Israel. In light of the uncertainty that remains on this subject, as described above, and as the employment of an employee in Israel without the proper permit may lead to criminal sanctions against the Israeli employer, we advise that you consult with us with regard to each foreign employee in order to clarify whether a request for a work permit is required and to determine what the corresponding procedure will be.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.