Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) said that Israel would once again admit large numbers of Chinese building workers. Ariel made the announcement after a meeting Thursday with officials at the Chinese Embassy.
The hope in the Ministry is that allowing the entry of large numbers of Chinese workers in the construction professions will allow contractors to complete work on new homes more quickly, thus bring more homes to market and lowering the cost of new housing.
Israel hosted large numbers of Chinese construction workers throughout the 1990s, but that number has been reduced dramatically over the past decade. The Chinese workers were kept out of Israel largely because of agreements Israel made with Eastern European countries to take construction jobs the Chinese had been working at, and hopes that more Israelis could be persuaded to take construction jobs.
Neither plan worked out; not enough Eastern European laborers were interested in the jobs, and neither were Israelis. Meanwhile, Shas, which throughout much of the past decade controlled both the Housing and Interior Ministries, remained opposed to allowing a mass influx of any foreign workers, and actively pushed for the removal of those already in the country. As a result, there was a massive labor shortage in the construction industry, which many economists said has been a factor in the steep increase in real estate prices.
Now, Israel has filed a request with China for that government to supply it with thousands of construction workers. Ariel met Thursday with Chinese ambassador to Israel Gao Yanping, telling her that there was no longer any holdup on Israel's end.
Gao said that China as recently as 2007 had sought to convince Israel to renew its Chinese worker program, but to no avail. With that, she said, her government saw the new Israeli effort in a positive light, and that the government was considering the proposal. Officials in the Embassy said that they expected the first workers to arrive in Israel at the beginning of 2014.