(photo credit: Gal Beckerman [file])
It's nearly Israel's 60th birthday and what better way to celebrate than to help ex-pat Israelis living overseas find their way home?
That is the belief of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, which planned to officially unveil to the government on Sunday its new flagship campaign - Bring Israelis Back Home.
According to the ministry, it is time the country readdressed the "brain drain" of recent years and changed its general attitude toward yordim, Israelis who have moved away from their homeland.
In fact, what used to be a bad word here has now become somewhat of a buzzword in the government, with the potential of what this ex-pat community can offer being realized.
"We want to send out the message that we are no longer disgusted by the fact that they [ex-pat Israelis] decided to leave, that we understand why they did and we just want them to come back," the ministry's spokeswoman, Meital Noy, told The Jerusalem Post last week.
"Bringing these people back now will only help the country because they will contribute to the labor market and the economy," Noy said. "We invested in them back then [when they lived and studied here] and we want to invest in them again now."
Ministry Director-General Erez Halfon said that, in addition to bringing Israelis back to live here, the government must also look at ways of enticing young Israelis to stay here and contribute to the economy.
From picking up the tab on health insurance costs to the establishment of a comprehensive human resources unit to help them find employment here, the ministry, based on a specially commissioned study, has invested NIS 150 million in the campaign and is expecting a good return.
The ministry said that anyone living abroad for two years is eligible for these benefits.
Noy said although there have been previous attempts to persuade Israelis to return to Israel, nothing has ever been done on this level.
"This project will allow thousands of Israelis who don't want to lower their standards of living to return to Israel and in doing so, contribute financially to the state," Immigrant Absorption Minister Ya'acov Edri said.
According to a recent study conducted by the ministry, roughly 700,000 Israelis live outside of the country, with 60 percent in North America, 25% in Europe and 15% spread across the rest of the world.
Some 70% of those living abroad are aged between 20-44, with 40 as the average age.
In 2007, 4,000 Israelis returned to live here and 1,600 of those were academics or engineers.
As for those still living abroad, the ministry's survey quizzed them about what was stopping them from returning. Among the main issues were the health insurance fine and employment.
There were also concerns over education, especially Hebrew language instruction for children not born or raised here.
While the ministry has not managed to cancel the health insurance fine, which is based on the belief that returning Israelis must prove they are seriously planning to move back for good, the office instead will cover the costs for all Israelis coming back here through August 2009.
On the employment front, the ministry claims to have enlisted the help of firms such as Teva, Intel, Israel Railways, Bezeq, Hot, Osem, Yediot Aharonot and local banks, opening up an estimated 20,000 job vacancies.
Noy said a newly created manpower office will oversee job placement, training and special prereturn pilot trips.
And a joint effort with the Education Ministry will see Hebrew language instruction increased for children of returning Israelis.
As for the question of whether the focus on bringing Israelis back to Israel is off target for a ministry that is meant to be working with immigrants once they arrive here, the office explained that no other government body is responsible for this country's former residents and it is about time that someone tapped into these resources to help them.
"The [financial] incentives that we are investing in this are very small compared to what we are giving to these people," said Noy.
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