Thousands in India Flock to a Recruitment Center for Jobs in Israel Despite the Israel-Hamas War

Thousands of Indians flocked to a recruitment center on Thursday for jobs that would take them to Israel despite the three-month Israeli-Hamas war that is devastating Gaza and threatening to ignite the wider Middle East.

Many among the crowd of men, mostly skilled construction workers and laborers, said they would take their chances in a country embroiled in war as they are struggling to find jobs in India, where unemployment remains high despite a swelling economy.

Anoop Singh, a college graduate and construction worker, was told he would make about $1,600 a month if he was selected to go to Israel — significantly more than the $360 to $420 he could get as a monthly wage for the same work in India.

“That’s why I have applied to go to Israel,” he said as he waited at the center in Lucknow, the capital of India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, for his job interview.

The men said they had heard media reports that Israel is facing a labor shortage after barring tens of thousands of Palestinian workers following Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war.

India, where the gross domestic product is about $2,400 per capital annually, seems willing to step in to fill some of that gap.

The states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have advertised for around 10,000 positions each for construction workers in Israel. Uttar Pradesh has finalized a list of 16,000 to send to Israel next month for a final selection, the state labor minister Anil Rajbhar said.

Rajbhar said the federal government’s screening center in Lucknow was in response to Israel’s request for laborers.

The week-long recruitment drive began on Tuesday, with a 15-member Israeli team overseeing the process and expecting to fill over 5,000 positions for masons, carpenters and other construction workers in Israel.

The crowd at the Lucknow center on Thursday was both anxious and hopeful. Many see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity that could change their lives for the better — even if that means working in a war zone.

“I know there is a threat, but problems exist here too,” said Singh, saying he was willing to take the risks so he could provide more for his family. “I am going there for my children.”

The recruitment drive for Israel has also cast a light on the chinks in India’s growth story, championed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has focused on investing in big-ticket infrastructure projects to woo businesses and foreign investors.

On one hand, India’s large economy is one of the world’s fastest growing and seen as a bright spot amid a recent global downturn.

But joblessness remains a concern as India last year became the world’s most populous. After a rise in salaried jobs in the last two decades, the pace of regular wage jobs has stagnated since 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic and an overall growth slowdown, according to the State of Working India report by the Azim Premji University.

The report says that while unemployment is falling, it is still high — above 15% for university graduates of all ages and around 42% for graduates under 25.

New Delhi and Jerusalem last year inked an agreement that would allow 40,000 Indians to work in the fields of construction and nursing in Israel. According to 2022 data from India’s Ministry of External Affairs, there are nearly 13,000 Indian workers there.

Last week, the ministry spokesperson said India’s labor partnership with Israel started before the latest war.

“We already have a large number of people, especially in the caregiving sector in Israel and through this agreement, we want to ensure that there is regulated migration and the rights of the people who go there are protected,” said Randhir Jaiswal.

He added that India is committed to making sure its migrant workers are safe and protected.

There are around 13 million Indians working abroad as laborers, professionals and experts, according to government data released last year.

After his interview Thursday at the Lucknow center, Biltu Singh said he was hopeful.

“They asked me questions about my skills,” he said but also why he wanted to go to Israel, given the security risk.

Singh said he shrugged and told them: “What should I do? I am unemployed.”

(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – Associated Press)

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