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 Immigrant Absorption Ministry released on Monday.

The ministry initiated a campaign to bring back Israeli citizens living abroad in May 2010.

Until then, a smaller number of Israelis returned each year; in the early 2000s, about 4,000 came back every year.

The amount started growing since 2008 and reached a peak in 2010 when about 11,000 citizens returned.

“These citizens are very important for the State of Israel,” explained Elad Sivan, Immigrant Absorption Ministry spokesman. “For every shekel we invest in a returning immigrant, we get about NIS 52 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.

“Especially in the present economic situation, every person returning, every scientist returning, every academic returning, every doctor, engineer or 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 and 39, and include about 4,837 academics and researchers as well as 2,720 technical professionals such as engineers, programmers and hi-tech workers and 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 ministry’s 2010- 2012 campaign to encourage Israelis to return included a package of economic benefits, including tax concessions, incentives for starting new businesses, employment counseling, health insurance aid and student benefits. Citizens who lived abroad for more than five years received all of the benefits while those who were away less received part of them.

Isabel Efroni and her family returned to Israel in 2008 after eight years 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.

“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.

Efroni thinks the financial incentives are a less than ideal way to encourage returning.

“Using these financial benefits as a trigger to bring Israelis home is not a healthy trigger,” she said. “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.

“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 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 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 the television commercials were criticized by the American Jewish community, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 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.”

The ministry spokesman added that the numbers released on Monday do not include those who have started registration for moving back to Israel but have not yet returned.

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