Lawmakers sought solutions this week to one of the greatest obstacles for French Jews in making aliya – the lack of recognition of their academic degrees in Israel.
The Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee held a meeting Tuesday to discuss the difficulties that immigrant doctors face, which focused mostly on French olim (immigrants). In the last three years, 1,594 medical professionals moved to Israel, mostly from Russia, Ukraine, the US and France, 34 percent of whom are doctors, 20% nurses, 18% psychologists and 8% dentists.
Upon moving to Israel, French olim face language barriers that make it very difficult to pass Israeli certification tests that are available only in Hebrew. As a result, 68% of immigrant doctors do not pass the certification test the first time. French olim also have problems getting their degrees recognized in Israel, because the structure of higher education in France is different from the Anglo-American model followed in Israel.
French immigrants have also lamented that professional organizations and unions have tried to block any moves to make it easier for them to convert their qualifications and thus to be permitted to work in Israel, in order to prevent more competition in their professions.
These obstacles exist for medical professionals, as well as for lawyers, investment bankers and others.
Committee chairman Avraham Neguise (Likud) said, “The process is too long for many of the immigrants, which makes some of them leave the country. We have to remove obstacles to make their absorption easier.”
MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid) said that the government encourages French Jewry to move to Israel, but makes it difficult for them to find jobs once they arrive.
Former absorption minister MK Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beytenu) called to increase the number of free hours of Hebrew lessons in an ulpan especially for doctors, and said: “The doctors’ guild is closed, and the potential for aliya from France is not being met. Every immigrant faces great difficulties to reestablish his economic, professional and social status from his country of origin.”
Marc Eisenberg, chairman of French immigrant umbrella organization Kelita, said his group can bring 50,000 olim from France, but said the Health Ministry must waive all exams for dentists in order to bring the large group to Israel.
Leah Elbaz, representing immigrants in the Bar Association, said that France has the most advanced healthcare system in the world according to the World Health Association, and in light of that, it does not make sense for the Health Ministry to exempt only doctors with 14 years of experience or more from taking exams in Israel.
However, Eli Gabbay, chairman of medical professions in the Histadrut Labor Union, said, “The professional exam is the only filter, and it must be the same for all immigrants and people who finish their studies.”
Health Ministry Deputy Director- General Prof. Arnon Afek said that the ministry is willing to exempt dentists from exams, but there is a problem with specializations that do not exist in Israel, or types of studies that do not overlap in the two countries, which require special coordination by the ministry.
On Monday, MK Oded Forer (Yisrael Beytenu) submitted two bills meant to alleviate the diploma recognition problem for medical professionals.
Forer’s first bill seeks to adopt the EU standard for recognizing degrees for doctors, dentists and pharmacists, meaning that anyone certified in the EU would automatically be able to work in Israel, as they could in any EU country. The EU law, passed in 2005, set a standard for medical training in all member states.
The legislation adds Hebrew proficiency and Israeli residency or citizenship to the EU requirements. It would apply only to new immigrants and returning residents, and not to those who lived in Israel immediately before their medical studies, which Forer said is meant to discourage Israelis from studying medicine abroad in EU countries.
The second bill Forer proposed would create a committee to review Health Ministry decisions, allowing olim to submit an appeal if their attempts to convert their degrees are rejected, rather than appealing to a court, which is the current requirement.
“It’s logical that a doctor in France can be a doctor in Israel, too,” Forer said. “The Health Ministry allows doctors who are tourists to perform surgery in Israel, but if the doctor makes aliya, the Health Ministry makes it difficult and prevents immigrants from working in their profession.”
The Yisrael Beytenu MK said that his bills maintain high standards and will not harm the quality of medicine in Israel.
Representatives of French immigrants at a Bayit Yehudi faction meeting on Monday asked MKs to help them overcome their problems finding jobs.
“Current realities created a window of opportunity for aliya and absorption of Jews from France,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett said. “This issue needs systemic treatment, and a ministerial committee should be formed to take care of the obstacles that make absorption difficult.”
Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Shuli Moalem-Refaeli warned that employment is one of the biggest problems new immigrants face, and said: “If we wait for doctors to learn Hebrew at the level that will allow them to be tested, they won’t stay in Israel.”
Last month, French MP Meyer Habib, an Israeli citizen who represents French citizens living abroad in Israel and other countries, announced that if Israel does not take care of the certification issue within three months, he will begin discouraging French Jews from immigrating to Israel.
Habib is a personal friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and said the two spoke about the issue and that the latter is determined to solve the problem.