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Opinion: Israel should respect rights of migrant workers

With foreign workers, Israel has its cake and eats it too

A migrant worker who becomes pregnant faces an even more wrenching choice. The Interior Ministry will cancel her work visa when the baby is born and give her three months to leave the country. So she must decide whether to have an abortion, or have the baby and either face deportation or send the baby home. In fact, Israeli rights groups said that employers frequently fire pregnant migrant workers, contending they won’t be able to do their job.

One domestic caregiver from China told Human Rights Watch that she sent her baby boy back to China shortly after he was born in 2009 in an attempt to retain her work visa.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” the 29 year old said. “But I thought it would be worth spending two years paying off my debt so that I could go home and have the financial means to care for him.”

Then the Interior Ministry revoked her work visa because of her continued relationship with her husband, a Chinese construction worker in Israel legally. So far, she remains in Israel.

Israel can lawfully control whom it allows into the country to work and restrict their ability to claim permanent residency, but its abusive policies are far from necessary to that end. Instead of deporting workers who quit, Israel should ensure migrant worker rights to seek a remedy against abusive employers.

Instead of deporting migrant workers who quit, Israel should ensure they have access to a remedy against abusive employers. Instead of deporting women for having children or the children themselves, Israel should prohibit employers from the discriminatory practice of firing pregnant women. Instead of penalizing marriage and childbirth, Israel should respect the right to a family. If Israel wants to continue to benefit from the labor of migrant workers, it should ensure their fundamental rights.

Bill Van Esveld is a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, based in Jerusalem. Allie Chen is a student at Harvard University who researched migrant workers as an intern for Human Rights Watch.