The Israeli and Chinese governments agreed in principle on Jan. 4 to import up to 20,000 construction workers to Israel to ease a huge shortage there. The pact, initialed in Beijing, follows years of negotiations and is set to be finalized by  the end of February.

Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Galant said the severe worker shortage in recent years has led to a slowdown in constructino of much-needed housing. He predicted the large-scale entry of Chinese construction workers will expedite work and reduce costs to be passed on the public.

According to Israel’s Finance Ministry, 6,000 Chinese workers will come to Israel within six months of the agreement being signed. The number will rise in stages to 20,0000 within a few years. There are currently an estimated 9.500 foreign workers, with just over one-third from China. The others are primarily from Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania and Moldova. In addition, the Israeli government has in the past year ncreased the number of Palestinian workers to 60,000.

“The agreement will put an end or dramatically reduce the phenomena of fees and the illegal trade in foreign workers that has characterized the sector,” said a senior Ministry source.  He added that it will enable authorities to better oversee the whole process. 

The Israel Builders Association welcomed the agreement. An association spokesman said “at least 30,000 workers are needed in order to meet the government’s ambitious construction plans,” adding that the foreign workers are crucial in key stages of the building process where skilled trades are in short supply domestically.

The agreement comes just two months after the Israeli government selected Chinese and Portuguese companies to begin building multifamily developments as part of an effort to reduce skyrocketing housing prices. The winning firms will be allowed to import up to 1,000 workers each. The additional workers are expected to be quickly hired by Israeli construction firms active in the housing, infrastructure and other segments of the construction industry.