Israel to ease visa requirements for foreign firms

New Ministry of Economy program will allow qualified investors, tech workers to stay in Israel for up to 5 years

Members of a Chinese delegation on an economic mission to Israel in Tel Aviv, July 31, 2012 (Courtesy)
Members of a Chinese delegation on an economic mission to Israel in Tel Aviv, July 31, 2012 (Courtesy)

The Ministry of Economy authorized a new program this week that will make it easier for entrepreneurs and tech workers to get work visas, allowing them to remain in Israel for an extended period of time.

The Innovation Visas for Foreign Entrepreneurs program will allow qualified entrepreneurs, investors and tech workers to remain in Israel for up to five years, and qualify them to apply for longer-term visas as well. This is good news for Israeli start-ups that partner with foreign companies, Israeli firms who want to draw on tech talent from around the world.

“The visa issue has definitely been a drag on developing business ties between Israel and China,” said Benjamin Peng, Business Director of Shanghai-based Yafo Capital, which runs a venture capital fund dedicated to investing in Israeli start-ups.

“Many entrepreneurs in China who would like to do business in Israel and with Israelis are intimidated by the bureaucracy, the long waiting period and other factors. I know that both governments have been consulting on this problem for a long time, and I am very happy that Israel is moving to get this resolved,” he said.

For Israeli start-ups, partnering with foreign firms is a matter of tech life and death. With its small local market, any start-up that has hopes of growing needs to find markets abroad, and the fastest and surest way of getting into those markets is to work with a company “on the ground” in a target market.

But for many start-ups, that’s just a beginning. Israeli companies that set up offices in foreign countries often seek to bring entrepreneurs and tech workers from abroad in order to help train them in the company’s R&D, which is conducted in Israel. In addition, many investors from abroad, seeking to take advantage of the resources Israel officers, would like to open branches of their firms here.

For a variety of reasons – historic, religious and security related – Israeli visas can be tough to get. The only way an Israeli company can hire a foreign worker, for example, is by proving that it cannot find a local worker to do the job. For foreign entrepreneurs, trying to open a local office can be a bureaucratic nightmare. According to many experts, Israel’s high-tech economy has been hampered because of restrictive rules that make it difficult for, among others, Chinese investors to open branches of their local companies in Israel.

Benjamin Peng (Courtesy)
Benjamin Peng (Courtesy)

All that will be solved – at least to some extent – with the new program, said Ministry of Economy Director General Amit Lang.

“We have created another vehicle to increase productivity and competition in the market. Foreign entrepreneurs who come to Israel will bring new ideas and different methods of working and thinking, which will help expand Israel’s world-leading entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem even further.”

Entrepreneurs and tech workers will be able to enter Israel through different programs, which will be organized and run by the Office of the Chief Scientist at the Israeli Ministry of Economy. The programs will lay out the requirements and obligations of those taking advantage of the visas, ensuring that they work in specific fields and organizations, and for a set time period.

“The State of Israel is known the world over as a source of technological innovation and as country with a uniquely supportive environment for tech companies,” said Chief Scientist Avi Hasson. “The new program will allow foreign entrepreneurs to come to the country and acquaint themselves with this environment. We believe this program will be very positively received by entrepreneurs who will be able to develop their ideas and establish unique start-ups through.”

Besides entrepreneurs and businesspeople, said Peng, the program will benefit another important segment of Israel’s tech ecosystem – students in high-tech tracks at Israeli universities who would very much like to work in a country they have come to know and appreciate.

“There are many Chinese students at Israeli universities studying advanced technology subjects, and they would love to stay after they finish their studies and work in Israel, at least for a while,” said Peng. “These students are qualified for jobs that many Israeli tech firms have trouble filling. With the visa change, some of those students will have the opportunity to stay and advance in their career in a country they are very happy to be studying in.”

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