Returning Israelis constituted almost a quarter of all those arriving to live in the country this year, according to data released this week by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry ahead of the second state-sponsored conference examining immigration and absorption, set to take place in Ashdod on Tuesday. According to the information published by the ministry, which is organizing the conference together with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the Ashdod Municipality and Bar-Ilan University, close to 7,000 ex-pat Israelis returned in 2008, a 50 percent increase in returning Israelis compared to the average number in previous years. In 2000, 2,641 Israelis came home and in 2007, 5,103 returned. Ministry officials cited the weakened global economy as one of the main factors encouraging aliya in recent months and in bringing Israelis back home. However, the ministry, which expects more than 8,000 Israeli ex-pats to return to the country in 2008, also highlighted its flagship program "Bringing Israelis home for the 60th Anniversary." "The state is fighting the brain drain of recent years and at the same time bringing back to Israel quality manpower," said Immigrant Absorption Minister Eli Aflalo. "We need to continue investing in the potential population so that they in turn will contribute to the economy and society." Among the efforts made by the government to entice its citizens abroad to return is a basket of welfare and business benefits, certain tax reductions and an easing of restrictions imposed by the Tax Authority. The ministry claims that it has succeeded in helping some 400 returning Israelis find work and that close to 1,500 people are in various stages of establishing their own businesses with a special government loan. More than 700,000 Israelis live in the Diaspora, with the majority (60%) residing in North America, 25% in Europe and 15% in the rest of the world. Tuesday's conference in Ashdod will include presentations and further research on the challenges facing new immigrants. More than 200 professionals working in the field are expected to attend.