Business Visitor in Israel? Not Necessarily!

In our global era, social and occupational mobility are of high importance. This economical interest should be the focus of any country interested in economical development. Many businessmen and global companies’ visitors enter Israel for a wide variety of reasons: business meetings, participation in conventions, negotiations process, signing contracts or other commercial activities.

Global companies and Human Resource Managers are often confused by the nature of the visitor’s stay in Israel. Can it be classified as a mere business trip or is it a working visit? This evokes several questions. What is a “Business Visit”? What defines “Business Visitor”? What actions are permitted by law while visiting Israel as a “Business Visitor”? We will examine problems with the current law, and we will suggest alternative actions within the framework of the Business Visit Entry Visa, which does not exist under the Israeli law, but exists in other countries. In this article, we will examine the current situation, and in a second article, we will suggest detailed alternatives and a list of actions accepted all over the Western world in relation to a “Business Visit.”

Citizens of Western Europe and North America who visit Israel automatically receive a B-2 Entry Visa (Tourist / Business Visitor Visa) valid for three months, not allowing the visitor to work. On the other hand, visitors to Israel from most of Eastern Europe, the Far East and South America are required to apply for an Entry Visa at the Israeli Consulate in their country of origin before entering Israel.

Israeli law defines various types of Entry Visas. A B-1 Work Visa, and a B-2 Visa for tourism and business trip. The law, stated under Section 5 of the Entry into Israel Regulations, is as follows:

a) A person who wishes to enter Israel for paid-for temporary work must apply for a B-1 Entry Visa and visiting residency (temporary worker); Israeli employer can apply, as hereby stated, for a foreign citizen he wishes to hire.

b) A person who asks to enter Israel for a visit or any other purpose requiring a short stay only, and not for the purpose of working, paid or without payment, shall apply for B-2 Visa and visiting residency (Tourist).

These are very general definitions, which do not answer the needs of the inviting companies and Human Resource Managers, looking for clear guidelines detailing the allowed activities of the business visitor under Israeli law. The Israeli legislator defines the terms of a business trip on negative basis only. Also, the term “business visitor” does not exist in the Israeli Immigration Laws and in the regulations issued by the Ministry of Interior (MOI). However, we can learn from the law quoted above that a short-term visitor to Israel whose purposes are not considered to be working ones, will be considered as being on a “business trip” that requires a B-2 visa even if the visitor receives a salary or expenses for this visit i.e., the fact that the visitor is being paid for his trip to Israel is irrelevant in determining whether the visitor needs a B-1 work visa or a B-2 Tourist / Business Visa.

Israeli Immigration Laws, unlike those of other countries, do not detail the actions allowed for the business visitor or define the limits of the business visitor. In the absence of a clear distinction between a foreign visitor and a foreign worker, Human Resource Managers and global companies find themselves in a state of uncertainty regarding visitor’s entry to Israel and the risk of entry refusal for their visitors. If the Israeli Border Control determines that the visitor is in fact coming to Israel to work without a proper B-1 work visa, they will refuse to let the visitor enter Israel. Once they have made that determination, the visitor will find himself in a facility designated for those who are not allowed to enter Israel. In such cases, the visitor will be deported within 24 hours to his State of origin unless an urgent petition is submitted on his behalf for an administrative order to permit his entry into Israel.

The nature of the visit is defined by immigration law based on the reason behind the visit, short as it may be, and whether the visitor performs productive work, even if he or she is not paid for that work. But it seems that this is an archaic method, unfitting for our global and technological era. It should be noted that the definition of “Business Visitor” involves a grey area, while the need for a comprehensive list of activities which can be considered as Business Visit activities will continue to increase. An open list would provide guidelines for MOI officials, for lawyers assisting global companies on daily basis, and for General Managers who do not wish to violate the Israeli laws and risk deportation of the visitor arriving for working purposes.

The limits of the term “Business Visitor” can be demonstrated by the U.S immigration laws. In the U.S., business visitors must prove, among other things, that they do not intend to staying in the U.S. for a long period of time. In addition, they must prove the link between their visit and occupation and/or activities outside the U.S. The U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual contains a non-exhaustive list specifying permissible activities of business visitors, such as participating in conferences and seminars, conducting research, negotiating and signing contracts, receiving orders (as a manufacturer or as a merchant) for goods manufactured outside the U.S., installing and/or providing maintenance services for commercial or industrial equipment purchased abroad, and training American workers providing maintenance for equipment or machinery purchased from a company outside U.S. borders.

Due to the reality of many foreign workers coming to Israel illegally, the State of Israel is modeling its immigration laws nowadays. Governmental policy relating to foreign workers is based on the guidelines of the current government’s attempts to deal with this problematic phenomenon, affecting Israel’s economic and social status. It seems that the reality presented in this essay must be added to the agenda, and that the immigration policies of Western countries, as far as a “Business Visitor” definition and the activities constituting “business visits” must be adopted. In the following essay we shall suggest detailed alternatives and provide a list of activities accepted in the Western world as constituting a business visit.

Written by Adv. Dotan Cohen, of DC Law Offices, a law firm specializing in immigration to Israel, the U.S., Canada and Australia. The office also provides legal support to many Israeli and global companies by providing them with Work Permits for foreign experts within the commercial and business sectors.

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