A group of 172 Jordanian citizens have crossed the border into Israel to work in hotels in Eilat, replacing the African migrants previously employed in the city.
The 172 workers are the first arrivals of an intended influx of 1,500 Jordanians who will be employed in the southern beach resort.
Employing Jordanians was an initiative of Interior Minister Silvan Shalom and Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi, Hebrew-language website Ynet reported Friday.
Shalom was in Eilat on Thursday to greet the first group of employees.
“This is a day of celebration for Israeli-Jordanian cooperation, a celebration for the two nations and a celebration for Eilat,” Shalom said. “It is a move that will strengthen ties between Israel and Jordan, improve service in Eilat hotels and prevent illegal migrants from working in Israel,” he added.
Tens of thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese have sought asylum in Israel over the past few years. There are currently some 50,000 Africans in the Jewish state, most of whom do not have official status.
The plan was drafted by the Population and Immigration Border Authority (PIBA) and approved by Shalom. The government approved the program on the condition that the Jordanians do not take jobs that are classed as “privileged positions” — jobs in which newly discharged IDF soldiers can work and receive extra bonuses.
The category of “privileged positions” aims to strengthen industries that are often thirsty for workers, and recently demobbed soldiers who lack professional training or a college degree often fit the bill.
The Jordanians receive daily visas and return to their homes in Jordan at the end of each work day.
PIBA head Amnon Ben Ami said many of the employees have worked in the hotel industry in Amman or Aqaba, and most of them are fluent in English. He said Israel and Jordan will be constantly monitoring the implementation of the plan to bring in the employees.
The Jordanians said passage to Israel at the border was efficient and smooth, Ynet reported.
The 1,500 workers are being recruited in three groups of 500. The 172 who arrived Thursday are from the first such group, and the rest should begin work within the next few weeks.
Israel approved a similar plan in 2014. In June that year, the government authorized 1,500 Jordanians to come and work in Eilat to combat the labor shortage.
Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, becoming the second Arab state to do so after Egypt in 1979.
— AFP contributed to this report.