Immigrant Absorption Minister director-general Dimitri Aperchev presented data on Monday showing aliya in the first three quarters of the year slowed compared to the average pace during all of 2008, while more Israeli expatriates were returning.
In all of 2008, 16,276 people immigrated to Israel, whereas by September 30, 2009, 11,939 had made the same move. This is 73 percent of the 2008 total.
Some 9,280 former residents returned to live in Israel throughout 2008, while 8,170 have done so three-quarters of the way through 2009. This is 88% of the 2008 total.
Meanwhile, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver painted an optimistic picture during her appearance before the Knesset's Absorption Committee, as she presented a briefing on the ministry's 2009 budget and activities. Landver said that where immigration is concerned "there is no such thing as - and cannot ever be - any opposition."
Landver said that it was already possible to state that "aliya is on the increase", and that the trend of reduced immigration that had been recorded throughout the past decade has now been reversed. Landver added that today, the foremost problems facing immigrants are housing, employment and the quality of language instruction.
"In all of these directions," promised Landver, "we are making a massive effort to find suitable solutions to these problems, but they will not be solved exclusively through the efforts of our ministry. This must be a systemic effort to which the government as a whole must contribute."
In no geographic subcategory - Western Europe, North America, Latin America, Ethiopia or the former Soviet States - did the number of immigrants for the first three quarters of 2009 exceed the total number of immigrants for the previous year. In most cases, the current numbers were between 65-91% of last years' immigration, with the notable exception among Ethiopians. There, 1,598 immigrated in 2008 and only 95 have come in 2009.
Committee chairwoman MK Lia Shemtov (Israel Beiteinu) said that "the aliya of the '90s from the former Soviet states brought about revolutions in Israel in a number of fields including culture, science, medicine, economics and hi-tech. None of this would have been true without the efforts of the Absorption Ministry.
Among the lessons that Shemtov said that Israel had learned regarding absorption of immigrants was that "there is no doubt that personal assistance of new immigrants by veteran immigrants is as important as providing housing and employment."
Shemtov and Landver's comments reflected the general focus of the committee, which discussed steps taken in the former Soviet Union, but did not mention any official Absorption Ministry initiatives other than tax discounts targeting Western European and American immigration.