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The longer North American immigrants deliberate about moving to Israel before taking the plunge, the likelier they are to settle in areas which are heavily populated by other Anglos, according to a newly-completed piece of research on the significance of social networks on immigration from developed countries.

Another finding in the same research series by Drs. Ilan Riss and Karin Amit from the Emek Hefer-based Ruppin Academic Center is that former North Americans who choose towns and neighborhoods with a sizable concentration of Anglos - or "ethnic enclaves," as the research paper terms places like Ra'anana, Modi'in and Beit Shemesh - are generally more reliant than others on the services of the Jerusalem-based immigrant assistance organization Nefesh B'Nefesh.

By contrast, North Americans who settle in areas with small Anglo communities tend to view the Jewish Agency as more helpful than Nefesh B'Nefesh. "This finding may indicate that Nefesh B'Nefesh is involved in directing immigrants to settle in specific locales," reads one of the papers by the two researchers from Ruppin's Institute for Immigration and Social Integration.

Tzvi Richter, Nefesh B'Nefesh Director of the Department of Guidance and Community Resources says the suggestion is not true. "Immigrants choose entirely on their own where they want to live. Nefesh B'Nefesh staff members advise on the advantages and disadvantages of living in an Anglo community and it is up to each immigrant to decide where they want to settle."

The current series - which is based on dozens of questionnaires, face-to face and telephone interviews with immigrants and immigrant-assistance workers - is Dr. Amit's fourth major work on Western immigrants. She herself was born in Morocco and immigrated to Israel with her family when she was three years old. She says her interest in immigration may owe to her own immigrant background.

A popular solution that also impedes

"The pros and cons of ethnic enclaves in immigrant absorption are the subject of much discussion all over the world," she told Anglo File. "There is no clear-cut conclusion on whether enclaves are a desirable arrangement for absorbing immigrants," she says.

"It's a popular solution among immigrants because it makes life easier in the short term, which is the most critical phase. It facilitates immigrants' entry into their new society, and allows them to give each other mutual support." But Amit adds that enclaves have also been shown to impede language acquisition skills and the formation of new social ties between immigrant and native families. "People decide for themselves where they want to live," she says. "This is especially true for North Americans, who generally tend to make a lot of inquiries and are very mindful of where they're going to live. So I don't think people should be encouraged to live in ethnic enclaves or discouraged from doing so."

Organizations that are running community programs for Anglos in "Western ethnic enclaves" can be seen as encouraging more Anglos to settle there, according to Amit. "I don't have an answer for the enclave debate, but such activities and programs merit careful consideration," she adds.

The Ruppin Academic Center plans to award Nefesh B'Nefesh the title of honorary research fellow next week on Ruppin's campus ground on Wednesday, May 28th, at Ruppin's 2008 alumni gathering. The award recognizes Nefesh B'Nefesh's success in increasing and facilitating immigration and removing financial, professional and logistical obstacles that may dissuade individuals from moving to Israel. According to Nefesh B'Nefesh, since its first year of operation in 2001 and 2007, immigration from the U.S. and Canada has risen by 80 percent.

Michael Jankelowitz, a spokesperson for the Jewish Agency, said the organization supports the research conducted at Ruppin's Institute for Immigration and Social Integration. "The Jewish Agency uses some of the initiatives at Ruppin to formulate its policy on immigration," he said. Amit and Riss also found that North Americans generally see Nefesh B'Nefesh as most helpful in extending hands-on assistance with immigration-related hurdles, but think the JA is best at providing information and tips.

Sixty-four percent of respondents placed the Jewish Agency as their first source for information. Only 52 percent of survey participants said they got the best information from Nefesh B'Nefesh, whose relationship with the Jewish Agency has been at times described as strained and even competitive.

Power of Facebook

Friends were the main source of information for 63 percent of respondents and 56 percent said they get their best information online. When asked how long they had contemplated immigrating before taking the plunge, most interviewees said it took them several years, with the bulk of the answers ranging from two years to a decade.

The importance of online research for prospective immigrants can hardly be overstated, Amit observes. "This applies especially to computer-proficient people like prospective immigrants from the U.S.," she explains. She has the impression that many prospective immigrants from the U.S. and Canada go much further than official immigration sites. "They go on forums, they post comments, search relevant email addresses for correspondence. They even use Facebook to find people whom they think can give them the answers to their questions," she said.