Israel’s Next Growth Driver: Immigrants From France?

About half of French immigrants in 2014 were 34 or younger, and about the same percentage were academics.

Ofer Vaknin

Israeli economic growth has been slowing and the engines traditionally driving it have been stuttering. Policymakers have no choice but to find new growth drivers, and the good news is that there’s one right on their doorstep: French immigrants.

From 2013 to 2015, Israel added more than 16,000 French Jews; in 2015, no less than 7,500, including tourists who decided to move here.

Beyond the demography, the French aliyah confers economic growth potential based on additional demand and investment. Also, these immigrants are relatively young and well-educated.

In 2014, about half of French immigrants were 34 or younger, and about half had higher education with at least 16 years of schooling in fields such as medicine, engineering and finance. So their contribution to the Israeli economy is significant.

A recent survey conducted for the French president by the research institute IFOP estimates the potential French aliyah at 200,000 at least, most of whom would be young.

The survey found that at least 43% of French Jews were seriously considering emigrating to Israel, mainly based on the insecurity they feel in France today. Among the group aged 24 to 34, the number was a startling 64%.

This is a historic opportunity for Israel demographically and economically. It’s a golden opportunity that we might well miss, because Israel isn’t necessarily the first choice among wound-be émigrés.

The potential French aliyah is large, but the survey also found that many of these Jews are also considering the United States, Canada, Australia and Britain, some of which are offering incentives. Unless Israel takes policy measures, this chance will slip through our fingers.

In fact, according to immigration statistics for 2016, we’re already missing the chance. The number of French immigrants has plunged in the first three months of the year.

This begs questions about the government’s policy for immigrant absorption. It isn’t enough just to bring them here; they need to be helped and integrated into the workforce. Otherwise, they’ll seek better fortunes elsewhere. Israel has to compete lest we lose the opportunity to bring over 200,000 French Jews mulling a change of venue.

The government needs to take immediate action to improve the process of absorbing French immigrants, based on the unique characteristics of this aliyah. It could start with steps to ease their integration into work and society. This would include guidance services and employment advice before they make the leap, reforming Israel’s employment centers and adopting successful models for placing academics.

Students making aliyah should receive assistance and incentives, and the system of project managers helping immigrants day to day also needs strengthening, to adapt the education system to take on French immigrants.

Successful integration is the best marketing act possible to attract the next waves of immigrants. The prime minister should lead a resolution to adopt a long-term strategic plan to encourage aliyah from France and ensure French Jews’ integration into Israel. This potential wave is the new growth driver for the coming years and must not be missed.

Mickael Bensadoun is the director general of Qualita, an umbrella organization for French immigrants. Dafna Aviram-Nitzan manages the immigration research unit at Bar-Ilan University’s AMCB center.