Analysis: How many immigrants came to Israel last year? It depends on whom you ask

Hebrew University scholar says discrepancy due to a difference in definition among the various bodies that monitor immigration.

May 13, 2014 03:56
2 minute read.
New olim arriving in Israel with Nefesh b'Nefesh, July 2012

Nefesh b'Nefesh July 2012. (photo credit: Courtesy of Nefesh b'Nefesh)


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Over 2,300 new immigrants disappeared from Israel between the end of December 2013 and the end of April 2014.

According to the Jewish Agency and the Immigration and Absorption Ministry’s aliya figures for 2013, published at the end of last year, 19,200 new immigrants came to Israel. Several months later the Central Bureau of Statistics issued its annual immigration count, pegging the number of olim at 16,884. The question is, what happened to the missing immigrants? They didn’t disappear and, depending on whom you ask, they may not have been here in the first place. The discrepancy, Hebrew University’s Prof. Sergio Della Pergola explained, is due to a difference in definition among the various bodies that monitor immigration.

In general, he said, the ministry “gives figures that are slightly higher” than the CBS figures because it counts Israelis returning from living abroad, tourists and legal residents who change their status while living in the country and others who are not considered immigrants by the strict definition employed by the bureau.

“The difference between the Central Bureau of Statistics and the Immigration and Absorption Ministry is that sometimes people come in [who are] not really new immigrants – temporary residents or tourists with an intention to become immigrants – and the Central Bureau of Statistics does not include them until they actually become residents, whereas probably the Jewish Agency and the Immigration and Absorption Ministry tend to include some people who are not yet really in.”

“The differences are not big, and in the long run they tend to equalize” when averaged over a span of years, he added.

One aliya professional who spoke with The Jerusalem Post on condition of anonymity stated that groups like Nefesh B’Nefesh, the agency, the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the CBS “don’t have a joint language as far as who is considered an oleh.”

“Nefesh B’Nefesh deals with immigration from within and outside of Israel, the Jewish Agency only deals with those from outside Israel and the Interior Ministry deals with status changes within Israel.

The Immigration and Absorption Ministry counts people who make aliya and apply to receive benefits. Somebody who has been living here for a certain number of years and [isn’t eligible] for aliya benefits won’t approach the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, and then they aren’t registered with the ministry as an oleh,” he explained.

A source with knowledge of the Immigration and Absorption Ministry concurred, telling the Post that the ministry counts people who change their status in Israel, unlike the CBS.

The ministry is “much more inclusive,” the source said.

A spokeswoman for the agency, which releases immigration figures jointly with the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, confirmed to the Post that their figures included those not counted by the CBS, such as those who change their status while in Israel and returning Israeli expatriates.

Of the 16,884 immigrants counted by the CBS, 43 percent came from the former Soviet Union, primarily Russia and Ukraine, 17% came from France, 13% from the United States and 8% from Ethiopia.

At the end of the day, Della- Pergola said, the differences between the competing figures are not as dramatic as the long-term trends that can be teased out of them, including the large jump in immigration from France and the smaller one Israel is now experiencing from the Ukraine.

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