In the largest-ever effort to persuade yordim - Israeli expatriates - to return home, dozens of government officials flew to North America over the weekend to participate in Jewish Agency-organized business and job fairs tailored for that group.
The initiative is part of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry's flagship program, "Returning Home on Israel's 60th," a massive effort to offer new incentives for the estimated 700,000 Israelis living overseas to come home.
The project includes comprehensive changes at several government agencies to ease the return process. The government will fund returnees' pay-in to the national health insurance system, a large fee imposed on returnees before their coverage can begin.
Returnees can expect reduced fairs on the El Al flight bringing them to Israel, along with discounted fees at customs.
Most dramatically, the government will simplify and reduce the tax burden on returning Israelis, changing a complex formula on taxing overseas income to a far simpler one: All taxes on foreign income will be waived for 10 years from the date of the returnee's arrival. The tax breaks will require new legislation, but with the support of Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On and much of the political field, this is expected to pass in the Knesset's next session, which begins in six weeks.
The delegation of around 20 senior officials from the Tax Authority, the National Insurance Institute and the Absorption Ministry, headed by ministry director-general Erez Halfon, will attend the fairs in seven North American cities with sizable Israeli populations: Miami, Boston, Montreal, Philadelphia, Toronto, Chicago and New York. The first fair, in Miami, opened last week, while the largest, in New York, will begin Sunday.
Israeli officials will also be visiting Manchester and London this week, where similar events are being held.
Expats will be able to discuss their personal situations, and the potential benefits of return, with government tax advisers and business advisers from the government's Center for Entrepreneurial Development and other relevant agencies.
The Israeli expat community, estimated by the government at around 450,000 in the US and Canada (a relatively high estimate according to many experts), includes a high proportion of people with advanced degrees, many of whom work in the technology sector and in scientific research.