Certification for professionals trained abroad and false aliya promises were some of the reasons given for the problems facing new immigrants from South America during a hearing in the Knesset Immigration Absorption and Diaspora Committee on Monday.
More than 1,300 South American Jews immigrated last year, a slight fall from previous years, according to the Jewish Agency.
Hanoch Tzamir, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, told the panel that of the 11,196 people who have made aliya from Argentina between 2000 and 2006, about 15 percent have returned.
Tzamir highlighted the ministry's initiative to keep communities of immigrants together in an effort to ease the transition into their new homeland.
However representatives of towns such as Beit She'an, Karmiel, Ra'anana and Upper Nazareth, which have attempted to integrate large groups of new immigrants, said those who left Israel did so because of a lack of employment opportunities.
"New immigrants from South America are not willing to work in jobs that are less important than what they were doing before they came here," Karmiel's Deputy Mayor Rina Greenberg told the committee.
"The role of the Jewish Agency is to explain to potential new olim that the employment situation for older immigrants in Israel is not easy, and promises that can't be kept should not be made," said MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud).
He said the leaving rate for immigrants from South America was twice as high as for those from the former Soviet Union.
"It is very important that the Jewish Agency tell the truth to potential immigrants, that there is no way, for example, that a doctor who makes aliya past the age of 45 will be able to fit into a career as a doctor in Israel," said Dr. Tzippi Dolphin, deputy mayor of Ra'anana. "That is also true for many other professions."
Jewish Agency spokesman Michael Jankelowitz said no official emissary would deliberately provide a potential immigrant "false hope." He said the agency had been extremely active in lobbying the relevant ministries to accept certifications from doctors or lawyers trained abroad.
"This is a battle for all immigrants," he said. "Why should an experienced doctor from Venezuela be any less qualified than a doctor here?"
Meir Lev, chairman of the umbrella organization for Latin American immigrants, also expressed disappointment with the strict licensing demands made of immigrants.
"How can the immigration of doctors and lawyers could be encouraged when there is no chance for them to find work in their professions in Israel?" he asked. "For a trained doctor, this is a disaster. They should be allowed to take the licensing exams before they make aliya."
The committee's chairman, MK Michael Nudelman (Kadima), was more optimistic, saying that 87 percent of immigrants from South America were absorbed "fairly successfully."
He added, "Every new immigrant has some difficulties because of a lack of language skills. We have established a special interministerial committee to look into better methods for teaching Hebrew in the ulpans."