JERUSALEM — Israel on Sunday approved new residency criteria that could result in the deportations of hundreds of children of migrant workers.
The decision by Israel's Cabinet represented a small step by Israel to clear up the status of thousands of foreign workers in Israel.
Under the decision, children of migrants whose parents entered Israel legally may remain if they are enrolled in school, speak Hebrew and have been here longer than five years.
An Israeli advocacy group, the Hotline for Migrant Workers, estimates 700 of 1,200 school-age children are at risk of deportation, along with their parents.
About 200,000 migrant workers live in Israel, mostly from the Philippines, China and Africa. About half have overstayed their visas, thousands for many years. Many have children who were born in Israel and know no other home.
Some Israelis complain that illegal migrants are taking jobs away from citizens. Others worry that the non-Jewish workers could upset the Jewish nature of the society.
At the Sunday Cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed with the critics. "This is a tangible threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel," he said.
In another step to limit the influx of foreigners, Israel is building a fence along its rugged 130-mile (200-kilometer) border with Egypt. Thousands of asylum seekers and illegal migrants cross the Sinai desert border every year, many guided by Bedouin trackers who live in Sinai.
Netanyahu said the border fence would be completed by 2013.