Fewer Israelis Immigrate to U.S.

Driven by Economy, Ex-Patriates Also Return to Israel

By Nathan Guttman

Published April 19, 2012, issue of April 27, 2012.
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Lev Ari, who studies Israeli emigration patterns, does not think that recent trends will have long-term effects on Israelis’ relocation tendencies. After all, studies show that Israelis living abroad are motivated by a drive to improve their financial situation and to find better employment opportunities. She surmises that once the American economy regains momentum Israelis will be in line for visas at the U.S. embassy once again.

According to the USCIS, more than 47,000 Israeli natives have received Green Cards in the past decade. Israeli estimates put the number of citizens living abroad anywhere between 550,000 and nearly 1 million.

The U.S. numbers count only those who have formally requested, and been granted, immigration status. They do not include those on temporary work visas or those living undocumented in the United States.

The issue of emigration can be a sore spot for Israelis, some of whom equate the move with the rejection of the Zionist dream. In Israel, it is common to portray those who have moved away in negative terms, often calling them “yordim,” meaning those who have descended.

A controversial ad campaign was launched in an attempt to make Israeli expatriates consider returning to Israel before their children lose touch with Jewish and Israeli culture. At the same time, Israel’s Ministry of Immigration Absorption has been offering assistance, tax breaks and support for those who return home.

Ella Saban, director of the department for returning Israelis at the Absorption Ministry, said that since launching the reabsorption effort in 2006 the number of Israelis coming back has doubled and is now in the range of 9,000 a year.

“We can clearly see the influence” of the economic situation, Saban said. “When the world went through an economic crisis in 2009, we saw more Israelis interested in returning home.”

In Israel, the unemployment rate is 5.4%; in the U.S., it’s 8.2%.

Economic factors aside, Israeli officials also point to the increase in the number of American Jews moving to Israel. Since the economic collapse, emigration of Americans to Israel has grown incrementally and now stands at more than 3,000 new immigrants a year.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


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