Israeli expats returning home in record numbers

10/15/2012 19:43

El Al airplanes sit on the runwayMinistry of Immigrant Absorption campaign brings back 22,470 Israelis living abroad in 2.5 years; most from US, Canada.

A record number of 22,470 Israelis who were living abroad returned to Israel in the past two and a half years, according to a report by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption released on Monday.

The Ministry had initiated a campaign to bring back Israeli citizens living abroad in May 2010. Up until then, the number of returning Israelis was less significant: in the early 2000s, about 4000 Israelis returned each year. The amount started growing since 2008 and reached a peak in 2010 when it neighbored 11,000 returning citizens.

“These citizens are very important for the state of Israel,” explained Elad Sivan, spokesman for the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. “For every shekel we invest in a returning immigrant, we get about 52 shekels back. Basically, no matter how much we invest in bringing them back, we only benefit from what they bring to the country with their professions for example,” he added.

“Especially in the present economic situation, every person returning, every scientist returning, every academic returning, every doctor, engineer or also teacher is contributing to the economy of the country,” Sivan said.

According to the report, the vast majority of returnees are between the ages of 31-39 and include about 4837 academics and researchers as well as 2720 technical professionals such as engineers, programmers and high-tech workers but also 681 business managers.  Most of the returnees came from the United States followed by Canada, the UK and France. An increasing number of people have moved back from Australia, Romania and Hungary as well.

The 2010-2012 campaign included a package of benefits to encourage the return of residents. Those benefits ranged from tax concessions, incentives for starting new businesses, help to integrate employment to help with national health insurance as well as special benefits for students. Citizens who lived abroad for over five years received all of the benefits. Those who were away for less received part of them.

Isabel Efroni and her family returned to Israel in 2008 after eight years of living in California: “We came back because we missed the family and the country itself. The decision was based on pure Zionism and on trying to keep the Jewish identity, not on economical factors at all,” she said.

Efroni explained the state’s incentives to bring citizens back have nothing to do with her decision to return: “We were offered the benefits the state was giving to returning residents but chose not to take advantage of them because we came back out of Zionism, nothing else. We did get assistance and explanation as to what steps to take and how to make the move, but that was it.”

“Using these financial benefits as a trigger to bring Israelis home is not a healthy trigger in my opinion. Because at the end of the day, whoever feels good in another country will stay there. This trigger is in fact meant for a community that is having financial difficulties in a foreign country and the ministry is using that to bring them back for socioeconomic reasons,” she added, “People who are doing fine abroad and still decided to move back do so out of ideology and not because of the benefits it gives them.”

Last year, the Ministry had ignited controversy when it released a series of television ads targeting Israelis living in the US. One of the clips featured a young Israeli woman trying to commemorate Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars but failing to adequately explain its significance to her partner, who many critics assumed to be an American Jew. The ad’s tagline read: “They will always remember Israel, but their partners might not always understand. Help them to come back.”

After they were criticized by American Jewry, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had decided to pull them off the air.

“The ads did the job,” Sivan said, “they created the buzz around the subject and brought a lot of international attention to the issue of Israelis abroad and a country asking to bring them back.”

Elad Sivan added that the numbers released on Monday do not include those who have started registration for moving back to Israel but haven't returned yet.

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