More than 19,000 people moved to the State of Israel in 2010, marking a rise of 16 percent over the previous year and continuing the upward trend in aliya from 2009, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry and the Jewish Agency for Israel reported jointly on Tuesday.

Many of those making Israel their new home came from free and democratic Western countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Switzerland, with the average age of new immigrants falling just below 30, the data revealed.

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“I would like to say that this increase has happened only since I took over as chairman,” Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky joked in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.

“However, I’m more convinced that it is due to many wonderful programs such as Taglit (Birthright), Masa or Lapid that encourage a connection between the Jewish Diaspora and Israel.”

He added that “most of those coming are from free countries, and for many of the new immigrants it is because of the contact they had in the past with the State of Israel and its people.”

Sharansky said that according to a recent study among new immigrants, the main reason olim from North America gave for making aliya was “a desire to be part of a Jewish country.”

“It is mainly people who have had a significant positive experience in Israel,” he said.

The global economic crisis, anti-Semitism and the “delegitimization” of Israel in many countries across the globe were also important, but were less of a factor in encouraging Jews worldwide to make aliya, Sharansky said.

“[In] Israel the economic situation is more stable, and that might draw people to come live here, but it does not explain everything because in places like Russia and the US, the economic situation is a little better,” he explained, adding that attempts to delegitimize Israel tended to have a negative effect on Jews worldwide and often turned them away from the Jewish state.

According to the information released by the Jewish Agency, which works together with the Immigrant Absorption Ministry to facilitate aliya and make the absorption process for new immigrants as smooth as possible, people from places as diverse as Venezuela, Malta, Japan and Rwanda chose to make their new home in Israel this year.

The largest group of immigrants, the figures showed, came from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Germany, with 7,700 people – or 40% of 2010’s new immigrants – arriving from that region.

Despite some economic improvements in former Soviet states, there was an increase of 7% in the number of olim arriving from there, compared to figures from 2009. By the end of the year, there will be 7,300 new immigrants from the FSU as opposed to 6,820 last year and 5,880 in 2008.

More than 1,000 new immigrants arrived from Moscow this year, the seventh year in a row with such a level of aliya from the Russian capital.

Among English-speaking immigrants, there was also a significant rise. A total of 3,980 new immigrants arrived here from North America, an increase of 6% over the previous year’s 3,767; from the UK, 760 people made aliya compared to 853 in 2009; and 1,470 South African olim arrived in Israel this year, an increase of 8% from 2009’s 1,233.

There were also large increases in immigration from some unlikely countries such as Australia and New Zealand, whence 260 people moved here compared to 175 in 2009; Belgium, which provided 250 new immigrants compared to 152 the previous year; and Switzerland, with some 120 people making aliya compared to 94 in 2009.

Other places that saw significant growth were Italy, which went up 25% from 89 in 2009 to 120 in 2010, and India, which saw an increase of 60% from 30 immigrants in 2009 to 48 people this year.

The biggest leap, however, came from South America, with Jews from the troubled community in Venezuela increasing their numbers by 280%, from 38 people in 2009 to 150 people in 2010.

Argentina also saw a rise, with 380 immigrants arriving in 2010 compared to 313 the previous year. Mexicans increased from 140 people in 2009 to 180 new olim this year, and Peruvians went from 105 last year to 140 this year.

The Jewish Agency and the ministry also reported new immigrants from China (10), Monaco (4), Japan (3), Hong Kong (3) and Honduras (3), as well as two olim from Malawi and individual immigrants from Malta, Singapore, Korea, Kenya and Rwanda.

Out of those who made aliya, 52.3% were men and 47.7% were women. Jerusalem was the most popular destination, with 2,397 making it their new home. The greatest number of immigrants (2,293) arrived in July.

The average age of new immigrants is 29.75, and the oldest immigrant to arrive here this year was 99.

Sharansky highlighted the younger average age of immigrants as a significant development, especially those from Russia, who are mostly young professionals.

“Fifteen years ago, the majority of immigrants from Russia were pensioners,” he said.

“Successful immigration and absorption will forever remain pillars of the Zionist enterprise, guaranteeing the existence and growth of the Jewish state,” Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver said. “I’m glad that during the past two years the trend has changed and the amount of immigrants is increasing.”

She added that “this was made possible in part thanks to a fruitful cooperation of all parties involved in preparation for immigration and absorption in Israel, including the Jewish Agency, the ministry and others.”

Both Landver and Sharansky cited new measures put in place recently to better streamline the immigration process. For US and UK immigrants arriving here, aliya organization Nefesh B’Nefesh has taken up the task, arranging group flights and helping new olim sidestep what used to be infuriating and complicated bureaucracy.

For other immigrants, the Jewish Agency and the ministry have undertaken to ease the absorption process. Last week, Landver launched an initiative that would allow olim to receive relevant documentation, including an Israeli identity card, when they first arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport.

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