April 27, 2010
by HAVIV RETTIG GUR
Two-year spike collapses as funding dries up for returnee benefits
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.
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 returning Israelis,” she said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “The State of Israel must take advantage of the window of opportunity that has been created and invest much greater funds in taking advantage of the enormous human potential available to us. We have to act before it’s too late.”
In response to the new figures, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday ordered the establishment of a joint committee of Absorption Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office officials that will develop a new benefits program for returnees within 30 days and present the plan to the government for funding.
Spending on returnee benefits enjoys a broad consensus among government officials, especially in the powerful Budgets Department of the Finance Ministry, because returnees tend to be highly skilled, educated and of working age, including a higher-than-average percentage of academics, scientists and those working in technical professions.