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Israel seeks to ease immigration for doctors, nurses due to manpower shortage

Government committee will weigh steps to encourage medical professionals to immigrate to Israel, amid escalating protests by healthcare workers over their work conditions

New immigrants from North America arrive on a special aliyah flight arranged by the Nefesh B'Nefesh organization, at Ben Gurion International Airport on August 14, 2019. (Flash90)
New immigrants from North America arrive on a special aliyah flight arranged by the Nefesh B'Nefesh organization, at Ben Gurion International Airport on August 14, 2019. (Flash90)

The Israeli government on Sunday approved the establishment of a committee to ease the immigration process for doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, in order to overcome the manpower shortage in the health sector.

The cabinet voted to approve the suggestion of Immigrant Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata to establish a committee with representatives from the health, finance, and immigration ministries as well as the Prime Minister’s Office to potentially allow thousands of medical workers from the former Soviet Union as well as the US, Canada, and Argentina to easily move to Israel.

The reforms suggested would simplify the transfer of medical licenses between countries and guarantee jobs to doctors who immigrate to Israel.

Following the announcement, Tamano-Shata tweeted that “all of Israel will benefit” from such a move.

Israel has long suffered from a chronic shortage of healthcare workers, which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and is currently threatened by a labor dispute among hospital interns.

Earlier this month, more than 2,500 interns delivered resignation letters to the Health Ministry in protest of their workload and 26-hour shifts, raising fears the drain on manpower would impact health care in hospitals. However, it was not clear if the letters, which were posted on the doors of the Tel Aviv District Health Office, were formally accepted.

On Sunday, hundreds of interns who were set to hand in resignation letters agreed to put off the move for 24 hours to give the Health Ministry a chance to make an offer to end the standoff, Army Radio reported.

Medical interns demonstrate for better work conditions in Tel Aviv on October 9, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Hundreds of medical students marched in Tel Aviv on Sunday in support of the interns, blocking roads and junctions. Medical interns have been protesting over the 26-hour shifts they are forced to work, and have rejected a government proposal to gradually reduce shifts to 18 hours by 2026 — but only in 10 hospitals in outlying areas.

In comments ahead of the cabinet meeting Sunday morning, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett mentioned the recent commemoration of Aliyah Day, and the need to further aid and encourage immigration.

“Aliyah is an issue of strategic importance and its expansion is a supreme national goal,” said Bennett. “Our aspiration is to continue bringing home as many of our brothers and sisters as possible, and especially to look after those who are already here. This is where the failure has been in recent years – we have known how to bring people here. but when they get here, the treatment has not been good enough.”

Bennett said that “as a son of parents who made aliyah to Israel, I know how difficult and complex this process is, it is a different mentality, and we need to help here.” The prime minister, whose parents immigrated from the US to Israel in the late 1960s, said the state does a lot to help immigrants “and it needs to do more, both for the second and third generations who are already here, as well as for their parents.”

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