Half of French Immigrants to Israel Work for France-based Call Centers

Study finds that despite not encountering many native Israelis during workday, immigrants' Israeli identity not negatively impacted.

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French immigrants to Israel study Hebrew in an ulpan, Israel, 2015.Credit: Reuters

About half of recent French immigrants have worked at call centers in Israel selling insurance, vacation packages and other services to customers in France, according to a new study.

Number of French immigrants to Israel

Karin Amit and Shirly Bar-Lev, researchers at the Ruppin Academic Center’s Institute for Immigration and Social Integration, sought to find out the implications of such work on the immigrants’ Israeli identity and sense of belonging. They found that even though the immigrants at the call centers did not encounter many native Israelis during their workday, the new immigrants did feel part of Israeli society.

“An explanation for these findings is to be found in the Zionist and religious motivations for aliyah that are apparent among French immigrants and the fact that most define themselves as connected to the Jewish religion [either as traditional or religious Jews],” the study found. “Workplaces [in Israel] conducted in French are cultivating Jewish identity, and it’s possible in this way they compensate for the cultural isolation of the immigrants in their places of work.”

The researchers cited the case of an ultra-Orthodox French immigrant named Sarah, who chats with the people on her call list about the weather in Paris as she sits in a cubical in Israel decorated with Israeli flags and pictures of rabbis.

Although anti-Semitism has been cited as a major reason for increased immigration from France, the researchers said affinity for Israel and Judaism may be a factor making immigrants more comfortable in their new country.

After comparing their findings regarding immigrants from France with those who moved from the former Soviet Union, the researchers said: “It was found that, although the two groups tend to cultural isolation, and even though the immigrants from the former Soviet Union have been here longer and have better command of Hebrew than the French immigrants, the French immigrants feel more ‘at home’ in Israel.”

French nationals who have moved to Israel in recent years have been able to find work fairly easily at one of the 80 or so call centers, the study found. The researchers said such jobs help ease the transition to life in Israel by providing immigrants with a French-speaking environment.

“When I come to work in the morning, I present my passport and return to France,” a study respondent joked.

The immigrants generally view these jobs as temporary, providing them with an income and enabling them to adjust to life in Israel quickly, but it also appears that they stay in these jobs due to language difficulties and a lack of familiarity with the Israeli job market.

However, call center work could also end up keeping qualified immigrants away from higher-paying jobs.

Israel saw a sizeable influx of French immigrants last year, when more immigrants to Israel came from France than from any other single country.

French immigration in 2014 doubled, from 3,414 in 2013 to 6,694 last year. The jump was widely attributed to anti-Semitism and to a relatively anemic French economy.

The study is based on a survey of 355 recent immigrants and 31 in-depth interviews.