1 in 4 North American Immigrants Leave

One quarter of immigrants from North America who arrived in Israel since 1989 have left the country for good, according to a Haaretz analysis based on Interior Ministry border control statistics regarding immigrants.

Although the statistics are not exact (they do not include people who left on government postings or others who live elsewhere but return every few months), it appears that the highest proportion of immigrants who leave are from North America: Canada (25.8 percent) and the United States (22.5 percent). They are followed by immigrants from South Africa (19.8 percent of whom return), Britain (19.3 percent) and France (16 percent).

The rate of departing immigrants from South America is only 11.3 percent, and among Ethiopians it is close to zero. Only 6.5 percent of the 937,777 immigrants from the former Soviet Union who have arrived since 1989 have left the country, according to the statistics.

The high rate of departure among North American immigrants may be seen as surprising, since they generally come here out of choice and identification with the country rather than to escape a bad economic or political situation.

Ian Kaplan, 32, is a North American immigrant who seems here to stay. He came to Israel from Philadelphia nine years ago, completed his army service and is now successfully employed in management of regional environmental projects. But he says "If I weren't a little crazy, I probably wouldn't hold on here either."

Prof. Charles Liebman, who teaches at Bar-Ilan University and won the Israel Prize for his research of American Jewry, commented, "When I heard about these statistics for the first time I was surprised, but when I thought about it a little more, it seemed logical. Some of the immigrants are very naive. They hear that there are economic problems in Israel but they're sure they'll get over them."

Liebman, who immigrated to Israel himself in 1969, tells about an acquaintence who immigrated to Israel and left twice. "Every time he went back to the U.S., he promised to return when he made enough money." Prof. Liebman believes that a smaller number of religious immigrants leave, and a smaller number of those living across the Green Line where, he says, "the social frameworks are very well organized."

"When a person comes to Israel for ideological reasons, his survival ability is greater," says Prof. Moshe Lisk, a sociologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "But when a convenient opportunity exists to return to a country of origin where the quality of life is high, sometimes ideological motivation is not a life-long inoculation," he says.

Ian Kaplan agrees. "I tell my friends, 'Forget where you came from.' If you expect the service and the standards you knew at home, you'll never make it."