Drastic drop in returning Israelis

Two-year spike collapses as funding dries up for returnee benefits.

ben gurion airport298 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
ben gurion airport298 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In the past two years, Israel has enjoyed a huge influx of expat Israelis fleeing the world economic downturn and seeking to take advantage of a generous financial benefits program on offer from the Israeli government.
Some 20,200 made the move between January 2008 and December 2009, a 10-fold increase compared to the years before the financial downturn.
But now, according to Absorption Ministry projections for 2010, that spike has evaporated, dropping from 9,264 in 2008 and 10,922 in 2009 to an expected 3,000 this year. Already the first three months of 2010 saw just 946 Israelis return from abroad.
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According to the ministry, the drop comes after the government allowed a massive benefits program – “Returning Home on Israel’s 60th” – to expire. The program had offered generous tax breaks and other aid, including waivers on the mandatory buy-in to the national insurance system and help for returnees seeking work in their field.
Absorption Minister Sofa Landver is now calling on the government to fund a second wave of benefits.
“We’re at a crossroads today on the issue of aliya and returningIsraelis,” she said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “The State of Israelmust take advantage of the window of opportunity that has been createdand invest much greater funds in taking advantage of the enormous humanpotential available to us. We have to act before it’s too late.”
Inresponse to the new figures, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu onSunday ordered  the establishment of a joint committee of AbsorptionMinistry and Prime Minister’s Office officials that will develop a newbenefits program for returnees within 30 days and present the plan tothe government for funding.
Spending on returnee benefits enjoysa broad consensus among government officials, especially in thepowerful Budgets Department of the Finance Ministry, because returneestend to be highly skilled, educated and of working age, including ahigher-than-average percentage of academics, scientists and thoseworking in technical professions.