In recent years, Israel has dealt with a massive wave of immigrants, with infiltrators constituting a significant portion of them. Like any other sovereign nation, Israel has applied diverse measures to combat illegal immigration while making an effort to fulfill its humanitarian obligations towards asylees and refugees. Our research papers on immigration trends provide an overview of the phenomenon – its scope, the challenges it poses and policy recommendations.  

Migration and Policy: A Comparative Analysis

By Immigration, Recent

The vociferous debate over the expulsion of illegal immigrants from Israel is characterized by many myths and few facts. Opponents of expulsion voice incessant claims about a discriminatory and inhumane immigration policy and contend that Israel fails to comply with international standards, especially concerning its obligations towards the UN Refugee Convention to which it is a signatory.

In order to verify these facts, we examined the treatment of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers in four western countries that, like Israel, are contending with the phenomenon of large-scale illegal immigration: The United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

Our study presents a comprehensive description of the policy regarding illegal immigration as expressed in legislation, government resolutions, and other various programs in the respective countries, while distinguishing between the many concepts that tend to become “scrambled” in the public debate: illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees.

We gathered the illegal immigration figures for each country (the immigrants’ identity, the circumstances of their arrival etc.) and surveyed the measures adopted by each country during recent years in order to curb illegal immigration. We also examined the policy towards asylum seekers – the ratio of approved refugee status requests, the process of determining their status, resettlement etc.

The main findings are presented below:

Without exception, each of the countries surveyed invests significant resources in attempting to reduce the phenomenon of illegal immigration, occasionally adopting harsh measures, in accordance with the extent of the threat posed by the wave of immigration:

  • Australia combats human smuggling in boats with a “Sovereign Borders” campaign to bolster border enforcement and has restricted immigration to Australia via the establishment of an “Offshore Processing” policy whereby illegal immigrants are dealt with outside the country’s borders until their status is finalized.
  • The United States has invested huge sums in securing its border with Mexico, from “Operation Gatekeeper” in the Clinton era to the construction of a security fence under the Bush administration. President Trump has continued this trend by leading a legal battle to cancel immigration programs that had been implemented under the Obama administration and through the extension of security forces’ authority to detain foreigners.
  • The United Kingdom has focused on limiting negative socio-economic consequences for its citizens that stem from the increased immigration of cheap labor into Britain. For example, the UK passed legislative reforms that penalize companies which choose to employ illegal immigrants and impose restrictions on service provided to immigrants by public institutions.
  • Canada, a country with a proven positive attitude towards immigration, has recently adopted a non-compromising policy towards illegal immigration. During the ten-year term of the previous Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, Canada reinforced its borders and adopted harsher punishments against human smuggling. This policy was relaxed markedly when Prime Minster Trudeau entered office in 2015. Despite the change and following an increasing trend of mass immigration from the US, Canada has recently begun signaling a lack of tolerance towards this phenomenon.


Even more significant differences between the different countries were found when examining treatment of asylum seekers and refugees:


  • Australia refuses the entry of immigrants attempting to breach its borders by boat (regardless of their reasons for immigrating), and transfers them to detention facilities, mainly in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, where they await a decision in their case by the Australian Ministry of Immigration. In general, even if they are eventually recognized as refugees, Australia usually attempts to resettle them in other countries.
  • In comparison to the other countries surveyed, Canada demonstrates an extremely friendly attitude towards asylum seekers, with an especially high ratio of approved asylum requests – close to 70% as of 2017 (an increase of approximately 44% from 2013).
  • The UK has registered a fairly constant ratio of refugee recognition in recent years. Our study reveals that Britain’s relative share of approved refugee requests is tiny compared to the other E.U. countries. The current government has a clear policy according to which every possible effort should be made to restrict the entry of asylum seekers into Britain. In practice, this is achieved by transferring large-scale financial aid to other countries willing to accept refugees and by returning those denied asylum to their country of origin.
  • The US adopted a relatively friendly attitude towards asylum seekers until the beginning of the Trump era. The Obama administration set extremely high refugee quotas that positioned the country as a leader in the resettlement of refugees within its own borders. However, President Trump has striven to reduce these quotas and toughen the conditions for receiving political asylum in the United States.


Regarding the treatment of illegal immigrants, our study found that the holding of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in detention centers is a common phenomenon. Israel is no different to Australia, Great Britain and the United States in its use of this means, perceived as a central means of deterrent in dealing with illegal immigration. Conditions in these facilities vary from country to country but cannot be described as comfortable in any of them. The underlying assumption of this approach is that a more generous policy will constitute an incentive for future would-be infiltrators.

Ultimately, Israel’s policy towards illegal immigrants is consistent with that of other leading western democracies. An analysis of the situation in Israel reveals an even more complex picture of the immigrant population and it is reasonable to assume that most of them are indeed not refugees. Nevertheless, the survey indicates the absence of formal policy that is expressed by the failure to determine a legally based refugee quota and the inadequate treatment of requests for political asylum.

We believe that the State of Israel must initiate primary legislation that determines the desired refugee quota while weighing up demographic, social, as well as humanitarian considerations. Furthermore, it would, in our opinion, be fitting were the State of Israel to adopt a more comprehensive immigration policy that distinguishes between refugees who are persecuted in their country of origin and fled its horrors and migrant workers seeking better living conditions. Resources and personnel must be allocated to a more thorough clarification of their identity and to enable the relevant authorities to offer quicker and more individual treatment of each request.

The State of Israel must acknowledge the new reality of global immigration and adjust its immigration policy that for years has primarily been directed at the absorption of Jewish immigrants. A more efficient system will assist in the eradication of illegal immigration while at the same time lead to an improvement in the human rights of illegal immigrants until final clarification of their status.


To the full research


Solidarity, Nationalism and Humanism – on the Question of Immigration

By Immigration No Comments

By Prof. Avi Diskin

The question of immigration is part and parcel of the basic societal dilemmas which we call, in the current context, the dilemma of “solidarity limits.” National solidarity is not only a practical and appropriate solution but is also an idea which is a suitable companion to basic liberal rights and freedoms such as the right for self-definition and the right of free association.

The currently most accepted and stable limits of solidarity are the borders of sovereign nations in general and the borders of nation-states specifically. Countries are characterized by territorial limits and by the sovereignty they apply to the territory they control. It is this sovereignty which is decisive in immigration issues. International agreements and the principles of basic morality require countries to help refugees — especially those running for their lives — but in principle leave the formalities of immigration to the various sovereign nations. Countries are not required to grant refugees citizenship or even integrate them into society; they are only required to prevent the refugee’s extradition to places which represent a danger to life. All countries apply selection criteria for immigration and in many countries these tests center around the country’s national identity and the identity of those seeking to immigrate. Read More

From a distance: what’s the connection between the infiltrators, the housing crisis, and society’s status gap?

By Immigration No Comments

By Ayal Gabbai and Ro’i Yelnick

A new position paper by Ayal Gabbai, former director of the prime minister’s office, and Ro’i Yelnick, an Institute researcher, presents the existential problems which are created by the infiltration of foreigners into Israel. The paper raises significant questions which must be asked and offers practical solutions.

The housing crisis – Currently (2014) there are somewhere between 40,000-60,000 infiltrators in Israel. Most live in extreme conditions: four to six people in one apartment. Their conditions impact the Israeli population and create a housing crisis – in recent years tens of thousands of apartments have been occupied by the infiltrators.

Education and welfare – The main challenge facing the educational system is what and how to teach the foreign student and whether they are to be considered permanent students or transient. The problems compound because the main burdens (welfare, education, and health) fall on already weakened regions, cities, and government infrastructures. Many of the infiltrators live in south Tel Aviv, Eilat, and Arad, none of which are swimming in resources.

Beyond presenting the problem, Gabbai and Yelnick discuss the identity of the infiltrators – do they immigrate for work purposes or are they refugees fleeing for their lives? According to Gabbai and Yelnick, there are organizations which take advantage of the phenomenon in order to destroy Israel’s character as a Jewish state and try to turn the country into a state of all its residents. Read More

Refugees (?) in Israel

By Immigration No Comments

On the Legal Status of the African Immigrants in Israel

By Nir Amran

The Israeli public has been intensely occupied with the arrival in Israel of many African immigrants and refugees over the past decade, their sojourn here, and the obligation of the State toward them, but it seems as though the public debate is missing something and that before our eyes it is falling into the typical pattern of polarity in which cookie-cutter opposing arguments clash. This is especially clear in the debate about the infiltrators’ legal status; each side “bases” its argument on a variety of concepts and ideas – briefly reviewed in this paper- and although most are indeed connected to this complex issue, they are used in a mix-and-match fashion and not always in the proper context.

The purpose of this paper is to summarize the base for claims about the status of infiltrators as seen in international law and expressed in Israeli law and to show the complexity of this legal issue. This document does not try to arbitrate between the claims, only to uncover the correct origins and contexts of concepts drawn from the world of international law and to raise practical questions about their implementation. The document also draws attention to the legal issues which arise from the geo-political and security aspects of the subject. Read More

Non-citizen Foreigners in Israel

By Immigration No Comments

Ariel Finkelstein

The phenomenon of non-citizen foreigners living inIsrael has gained widespread recognition because of the infiltrations on the Israeli southern border. Even so, it seems that the public discourse is deficient and is often influenced by manipulation and incomplete data. The purpose of this document is to summarize and organize the primary data and opinions on this topic and serve as a basis for a serious, productive discussion leading to policy. This document will not propose such policy; it will only present the facts and opinions of the various parties to the public discourse. Effort has been made to present the widest set of facts and a variety of opinions and their roots, with no attempt to reach a conclusion.

The document refers to three main groups of non-citizen foreigners in Israel:

1. Infiltrators: Foreigners who have illegally entered Israel on the Egyptian border and who were caught at the border or within the country.

2. Foreign workers: This group is sub-divided in two – foreign workers with valid work permits and foreign workers who entered Israel with valid work permits which have since expired.

3. Tourists without valid permits: Foreigners from underdeveloped countries who entered Israel as tourists and stayed without valid permits. It is thought that most of them work illegally. Read More

Analysis of the Proposed Conversion Law

By Conversion, Immigration, Religion and State No Comments

By Ariel Finkelstain

Following the proposed law sponsored by MK Elazar Stern regarding conversion by the local Rabbis, there is a deep and alert public discourse about the conversions issue. Throughout the public discussion, many arguments were heard, which were often imprecise and based on a misunderstanding of the proposed law. The goal of this analysis is to fill in this void and briefly explain the proposed law to the public, including the previous forms it took and its goals, and to discuss several of the points made against it.

The analysis focuses on two arguments which were brought up against the proposed law:

The first argument is that the goal of the proposed law is to promote reform and conservative conversions. Analysis of the proposed law shows that this argument has no substance and the proposed law does not at all promote that type of conversion. Read More

Burial of Non-Jewish Soldiers

By Additional Issues, Immigration, Religion and State No Comments

Eliad Avruch and Lilach Ben-Zvi

One of the most obvious manifestations of being Israeli is army service. Another factor positioning a person within Israeli society, is his religious affiliation. This presents a dilemma for the many people currently serving in the armed forces who are categorised as being without religion or questionably Jewish, and this dilemma is particularly poignant during times of bereavement, when the army must decide whether to bury both Jews and non-Jews, side-by-side (considered by most to be against the dictates of Halacha). This situation creates a clash between the values of Israel as a Jewish state and as a state which appreciates and even sanctifies all its fallen.

According to Jewish law it is forbidden to bury a member of another religion in a Jewish cemetery. But since burial of combat soldiers has taken on such symbolic importance, setting aside separate sections for members of other religions or burying the bodies outside the cemetery fence may lead to unwanted personal, familial, and sectorial complications. Insensitive treatment of a soldier who was persecuted in his native country for being a Jew and in Israel is treated, even after his death, as a non-Jew (leaving aside for now any determination of his true religious affiliation) may lead to alienation and isolation on the part of both the soldier’s family and entire groups within Israeli society. At the same time, ignoring Jewish law may have a negative impact on the Jewish character of the state of Israel and on soldiers and their families who wish to be buried according to the dictates of Jewish law.

The purpose of this position paper is to determine the most appropriate approach to the burial of these members of Israeli society in order to maintain a balance among the needs of the different sectors which serve in the armed forces. Read More

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