Officials unmoved as Israel’s Filipina ‘X-Factor’ winner silenced by visa laws

Caregiver’s victory highlights situation of migrant workers in Israel

Rose Fostanes (47), a Filipina caregiver, celebrates on stage with Philippine ambassador to Israel Generoso Calonge after winning Israel’s X-Factor television show. The Filipina caregiver, once part of a faceless crowd of foreign workers who tend to Israel’s infirm and elderly, is now a household name. Photograph: David Bachar/Reuters

Rose Fostanes (47), a Filipina caregiver, celebrates on stage with Philippine ambassador to Israel Generoso Calonge after winning Israel’s X-Factor television show. The Filipina caregiver, once part of a faceless crowd of foreign workers who tend to Israel’s infirm and elderly, is now a household name. Photograph: David Bachar/Reuters

 

It was a fairytale come true when Rose Fostanes won Israel’s X-Factor this week, but now the diminutive Filipina caregiver has been informed that she is not allowed to perform in Israel.

It transpires that Fostanes (47), who came to the country four years ago on a caregiver visa, is not allowed to earn a living except as a caregiver, and cannot perform, even though she is now a household name in Israel.

She won the final in Israel’s first X-Factor on Tuesday, including a recording contract for an album, but an Israeli official made it clear that any payments received from singing would be considered a violation of her visa.

Fostanes said that now she has won, she just wants to be a singer, but because of the visa restriction, “I don’t know what will happen now.”

Thousands of Filipinas work in Israel as caregivers, sending money to relatives back home. Fostanes cares for an ailing Tel Aviv woman and shares a crowded apartment in a run-down neighbourhood with seven other foreign workers.

She won the hearts of the voting audience at home in Israel’s most popular reality TV show, hosted by supermodel Bar Rafaeli, to beat three Israeli finalists, performing crowd-pleasing renditions of Frank Sinatra’s My Way, Alicia Keys’s If I Ain’t Got You, and Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics.

“It’s a big change in my life because before nobody recognised me, nobody knew me. But now everybody, I think everybody in Israel knows my name. And it is very funny.”

The TV producers, given Fostanes’s new-found stardom, are now hoping the interior ministry will bend the rules and grant her a visa as a foreign artist even though she doesn’t strictly fit the bill.


Rags-to-riches story
Her Israeli rags-to-riches story also made headlines in the Philippines and Fostanes now intends to launch a singing career back home, in parallel to her Israeli efforts. A recording company is already planning to record an album in Filipino and have her tour in her home country.

Fostanes’s X-Factor victory coincided with mounting protests by would-be migrant workers in Israel following a recent crackdown by the authorities.

On Wednesday, migrant women and children marched to the offices of the United Nations refugee agency and the US embassy in Tel Aviv carrying signs saying “No to jail” and “We are refugees, not infiltrators”.


Right to work
More than 50,000 African asylum seekers last week went on strike to demand refugee status and the right to work legally in Israel. Israel is reluctant to grant refugee status, even though many of the Africans fled war zones such as Sudan and Eritrea.

Last year Israel completed the construction of a security fence along the border with the Egyptian Sinai, reducing illegal immigration to a trickle.

A new detention facility has been built in the Negev desert to hold the asylum seekers and migrants are being offered €2,500 to return home.