Israel’s government approved work permits for 700 Jordanians to enter the country and work at hotels in the southern city of Eilat on June 21. An additional 800 Jordanian workers are expected to be approved in the coming days.
Newly appointed Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir explained, "The ban on workers from entering Eilat prevents the reopening of hotels in the city, because it is Jordanian workers who do most of the cleaning and maintenance positions in the hotels." Zamir added that the workers won’t be able to commute back and forth between the countries and that the employers will be responsible for providing the workers with adequate housing. Upon their arrival, the Jordanians will have to spend 14 days in quarantine to ensure they are not carrying the novel coronavirus.
During March and April, most of the hotels in Israel were closed. For the tourism-dependent Red Sea coastal city of Eilat, the closure dealt an especially harsh blow. Unemployment rose to 43% and local business owners were warning of an imminent collapse of hotels, restaurants and other tourist attractions. When the government lifted the ban at the end of May, the various hotels tried to recruit local workers for cleaning, maintenance and dishwashing, but Israelis were reluctant to take the jobs.
Three job fairs destined to resolve the problem yielded little response from Israelis, so the hotels pressured the government to facilitate the entry of Jordanian workers. With reports of coronavirus cases decreasing in Jordan, the government acquiesced to the demand for 700 workers. The approval of additional 800 permits will depend on unemployment rates in Eilat as well as the number of coronavirus cases in the neighboring Hashemite kingdom.
Prior to the pandemic, close to 2,000 Jordanians worked in different hotels in the Eilat area. In March 2019, Israel agreed to increase the number of Jordanian day workers at hotels in Eilat by by 33%, from 1,500 to 2,000. With the spread of the coronavirus, the border crossing was closed and hotels shut down. Hotel owners are now saying that while the permits will help, they won’t not entirely resolve the problem. Some hotels will stay closed for lack of personnel. With the summer vacation season just a few days away, they fear that Eilat's tourism industry will continue to suffer.
While tensions between Jerusalem and Amman are high over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s annexation plan, the Jordan authorities do not seem to be standing in the way of Jordanians interested in working in Israel.