Despite Returnee Benefits Push, More Israelis Staying Rooted Abroad

A total of 8,492 Israelis came home last year, down from the nearly 12,000 that returned in 2009.

Fewer expat Israelis returned to their native land in 2011 than in the two years previous, and some of those who have returned reported difficulties in cashing in state-promised benefits.

A total of 8,492 Israelis came home last year, down from the nearly 12,000 that returned in 2009. That year, the government promised returnees special benefits following the country's 60th anniversary celebrations, leading to the spike.

Israeli protest New York
Tracy Levy

Returning residents still get perks, and many returnees report that the benefits from the Immigrant Absorption Ministry play into their decisions to come back, on top of missing family and friends. But some have complained about the way the perks are structured.

Israelis who had been away for many years, for example, have complained about the fee they had to pay to reinstate their Israeli medical coverage. Dani Zaken of the National Insurance Institute explained that safeguards were put into the system so Israelis who have no intention of remaining in the country don't get treatment through the state-subsidized medical system.

Returning residents are also entitled to an exemption from purchase tax when importing a car and reduced customs duties, but major restrictions apply. Older cars are not eligible, and when it comes to couples, if one returnee imports a car, the spouse is not entitled to bring in a second car, or even to drive the car that the family does bring in for four years.

The car's manufacturer also has to have an authorized importer in Israel, or a business deal with them.

The biggest complaint about importing vehicles relates to the procedure involved in shipping the car. "I could have brought my car with me, but acquaintances of mine who went through the process before me told me I will never manage with it unless I pay a commission to a private intermediary," said Yossi, a hi-tech employee who recently returned with his family after 11 years in Boston. "Even in calls to the Transportation Ministry hotline in Israel, the government clerk told me the only way to do this and come out sane is to pay an intermediary to do the work for me. That's simply not ethical in my view."

The Immigrant Absorption Ministry said the car import benefits are handled by the Transportation Ministry and the Tax Authority. The Transportation Ministry said its policy is to encourage the import of safer cars, but returning residents are provided a concession, allowing them to bring in cars that are up to four years old rather than the usual maximum of two years. The ministry also denied that it was necessary to use middlemen, although individual ministry employees acknowledged that the field is not regulated and there is currently a controversy within the ministry over whether it should be.

The ministry, however, does not specifically recommend the use of intermediaries.