'Stimulus' earmarked for immigrants

Absorption ministry sti

A growing budget crisis that threatened to upend many crucial programs for absorbing new immigrants has been reversed with the addition of some NIS 172m. to the Absorption Ministry's coffers for fiscal year 2009. In particular, several thousand new immigrants who failed to receive promised government vouchers for job training courses valued at up to NIS 8,000 each will be receiving the money within two months, the Absorption Ministry promised on Monday. "Because of drastic budget cuts [throughout the government], and the fact that the government went for six months in 2009 without an approved budget, we simply couldn't pay the vouchers until now," Absorption Ministry Director General Dmitry Apartsev told The Jerusalem Post Monday. "We have been deeply uncomfortable and unhappy about being unable to fulfill promises made to immigrants," he said. But now, some 4,500 immigrants who filed requests for the vouchers between December 2008 and September 2009 will begin to receive the promised funds. "Starting this morning [Monday], the order has gone out to try to contact all those immigrants who asked the Absorption Ministry for vouchers in 2009. And if an immigrant started a job-training course in 2009 and paid money for it without waiting for government assistance, then as long as it's a course in a recognized institution, they should submit the paperwork so we can begin to give them their money, too," Apartsev said. He promised that any funds that are not delivered within fiscal year 2009 will be paid out by the end of January 2010. A ministry official told the Post several weeks ago that the vouchers program was missing over NIS 36m. in funding. But it wasn't only the vouchers that were at risk from the ministry's budget shortage. In all, negotiations with the Finance Ministry and Prime Minister's Office in recent weeks have yielded an NIS 172m. boost to this year's absorption budget, funds likely to save several crucial programs from drastic cutbacks or even cancellation. Among these are the Student Authority, a body that finances the tuitions of some 3,000 immigrant university students, which was facing a budget crunch of NIS 12m. that threatened the continued funding of tuition for hundreds of students. Severe cuts to the budget of the Jewish Agency in recent years - driven by the global financial crisis and a corresponding drop in philanthropy - has meant that the government has had to step in to become the primary funding source for the Student Authority, Apartsev explained. This translated into a shortfall of NIS 19m. Similarly, the KAMEA program, which funds the academic positions of several hundred immigrant scientists, faced complete closure. "We were on the verge of firing a large number of scientists" from Israeli universities and research institutes, according to Apartsev. "This is a very dangerous position. Most of these scientists are from the former Soviet Union, and Russia has already declared its desire to get back émigrés who left the country and who possess certain professional skills. "Zionism is all well and good," he continued, "but you have to get the simple things right to keep these people here. You can't announce your intentions to fight the 'brain drain,' and then turn around and take away funding for programs that pay the salaries of immigrant scientists." Apartsev, himself an immigrant from Lithuania, urged his fellow immigrants to turn to the government-funded guidance centers (merkazei hechven), where they could find occupational psychologists to advise them on their employment preferences, an entrepreneurship department to help them start their own business and government programs and financial aid to help them integrate better into the Israeli workforce. The budget crisis is already behind the ministry, Apartsev believes, "so we can focus on the real work of absorption. There is nothing more important than good absorption, because ultimately that's what brings more aliya."