That idea was incomplete from the start. When we talk about refugees, only a small portion of them are eligible to work legally in Israel – and that can be a challenge for the sectors actively trying to hire them, like tech.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the Israeli tech sector sprang into action to welcome displaced professionals fleeing the Ukraine war and its fallout across the region. 300 local companies, from startups to major multinationals signed up to publicly support and hire them. HR leaders in companies like Philips Israel and Intel Israel created “VIP” fast tracks to get displaced professionals hired faster. Industry leaders spoke out, employees organized referrals to companies where they work, and volunteers signed up to individually mentor newcomers. Hundreds of people were interviewed for tech jobs. The industry was, and remains, committed to helping people to integrate into the workforce.
In April, I got an excited call from a tech CEO, saying “We’re making an offer to a Ukrainian candidate that could bring so much value to our company. But she’s not eligible for the Right of Return (Israel’s law permitting people with Jewish ancestry to move to Israel). Is there anything we can do?” It turned out that not all Ukrainian refugees who came into the country can legally work here.
To make it more confusing for companies trying to hire Ukrainian refugees, fragmented information trickled in, like reports that two individual Ukrainian refugees from 2014 were given the right to work by Tel Aviv District Court Judge Michal Agmon-Gonen. But this did not apply to other Ukrainians, like those who arrived in 2022. Then it was announced that Ukrainian refugees would be granted an extension of their visas. But it was only an extension of their tourist status until June 30, 2022. This did not solve their employment crisis.
The urgency of the effort reached the highest echelons of the government. A Knesset hearing on the matter of giving Ukrainian workers a safe haven in Israel was held in the Subcommittee for Advancing Israeli High-Tech. As a result, its Chairman, MK Ron Katz, pushed through a pilot program called the Green Pass that removed the salary requirements for Ukrainians coming to Israel on special three-month work visas sponsored by Israeli technology companies. Notably, it included people who didn’t qualify for the Right of Return. The Innovation Authority recognized the pilot program and it’s still running.
On the other hand, Ukrainians still need permits to enter as visitors, and companies trying to bring in Ukrainian employees for even short professional visits have reported denials with no explanation as recently as June 2022.
What can we do as a tech community in the face of these challenges? For now, we can help Ukrainians seeking refuge from the war who are also immigrants. There are 5,888 Ukrainian Israeli immigrants. We can all welcome people into our workforces through hiring or referrals. There are also 287 immigrants from Belarus and 6053 from Russia. There’s an additional group of 13,353 Ukrainians, Russians, and Belarusians that landed with the right to immigrate (if they choose to), and another 40,000 interested in immigration that are still abroad.
As we mark World Refugee Day in Israel, the more you know about the status of people who have been displaced or seeking asylum in Israel, the better positioned you are to help integrate them into the workforce and our communities.
Written by Sophia Tupolev-Luz, Co-founder of The Reboot Startup Nation
***Opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Reboot Startup Nation