Immigrant company owners, who make up one of the weakest parts of the business sector, may soon be on the receiving end of added government assistance. The government has set up a steering committee to examine the extent of their difficulties and the amount of money needed to solve them. After that, for review it will present its proposals to the director general of the Ministry of Industry Trade and Labor. The committee was established after the Deputy Minister of Absorption, Marina Solodkin, alerted Finance Minister Ehud Olmert of the problems being faced by immigrant businesses owners. Immigrants who have been in Israel for more than 10 years are in an especially tough situation, she said in an interview Wednesday, because they no longer qualify for special immigrant benefits, such as grants totaling NIS 55,000 and business training courses. The banks, however, continue to view them as new immigrants and are therefore reluctant to lend them money. "After 10 years, immigrant businesses can't get government help, but the banks still view them as unreliable partners," she said. The banks were especially unwilling to lend money to immigrants during the recession of 2002-2003, when thousands of immigrant-owned businesses went bankrupt, Solodkin added. "We had a disaster in immigrant business and the government was not capable of understanding their special needs," she said. However, a Bank Leumi spokesman denied there was discrimination against new immigrants. "There is no basis in reality for this. We give credit to every Israeli citizen according to the merits of the case," he said. There are no figures on how many immigrant businesses exist, but Solodkin believes there may be tens of thousands. "It was a very prosperous field in the 1990s," she said. The problems immigrant business owners experience cut across national lines, with Russian, Ethiopian and South American entrepreneurs all having difficulties, although those from the US tend to be in a better position. "I think that American businessmen that come to Israel have a better basis and better financing. Those who have problems are those who start businesses without any capital," she said.