Israel introduces ‘innovation visas’ for startups to make foreign hires

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For companies begging for easier transfer of talent across borders, Silicon Wadi will answer their call soon. Israel is introducing a new visa for foreign workers specifically geared toward hi-tech and the startup sector.

A first batch of some 50 so-called “innovation visas” will be good for two years and given to foreign professionals employed by a select group of companies. Twelve established companies will be the first beneficiaries of the visas. Meanwhile, the program is expected to expand to allow visa holders the ability to set up new firms later. Tel Aviv Global, an arm of the city’s municipal government, and the Chief Scientist have been pushing for the visa for years.

“We expect an immense response on the part of entrepreneurs as this program helps them develop ideas and establish unique startup companies,” said the Israeli Chief Scientist Avi Hasson.

Current visa rules are strict in Israel, requiring companies to justify a foreign hire by proving they cannot find an Israeli who can match a foreign candidate’s skills. The Wall Street Journal last year featured a story on how those laws might be hurting the country’s appeal to globetrotting entrepreneurs.

“I have real trouble explaining what I do when traveling,” Elephone CTO Bob Singor of the Netherlands said last year. “And the security checks just drag on and on.”

The manner in which the Israeli government is granting the visas seems overreaching though. An open call will be put out to Israeli companies to apply to use the visas for its future workers. Then, only 12 companies will be selected with predictably cumbersome bureaucracy from both the Immigration Authority and the Office of the Chief Scientist. At that point, there will then be an open call to American companies who wish to set up shop in Israel to apply for the visas. There is no indication how many visas will be allocated per company.

Israel is behind the ball in tailoring a new kind of visa to attract technology experts from abroad and transform them into anchors for foreign investment into the local economy. The UK, Chile, Ireland, Canada, Singapore, New Zealand, and Germany all have similar visas according to the Wall Street Journal. Australia already offers a “business innovation visa” that some like StartupAUS want augmented into an “entrepreneur visa.”

Visa holders who want to stay in Israel will have the chance to reapply or to put in for an “expert visa” if they want to launch new ventures within Israeli borders. Their current employers would also be eligible for grants from the Office of the Chief Scientist, according to Israeli financial paper Calcalist (Hebrew).

“Israel is positioned as a center of innovation and leader of [technological] development,” said the country’s Economy Minister Aryeh Deri. “We have to hold on to this achievement. The innovation visa will let foreign entrepreneuers from the world over develop new ideas in Israel and aid market growth.”

Featured Image Credit: James Emery / Flickr

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