Israel Seeks to Overcome Brain Drain With NIS 1.6b Plan

Interministerial committee chief: The law of natural selection left the best abroad because of better employment terms.

A plan devised by an interministerial committee at a projected cost of NIS 1.6 billion aims to "bring home the brains" - persuade talented Israelis to return to Israel.

"About 15,000 to 20,000 Israelis are working in advanced industries around the world. Not only in high-tech: Many work in areas that aren't strong in Israel," says Haim Rousso, the executive vice president for engineering and technology excellence at Elbit Systems and the former general manager of Electro-Optics Elop Division at Elbit Systems. "The law of natural selection left the best abroad because of better employment terms." The purpose of the committee, which he headed, is to coax back 500 of these talents between 2010 and 2014 at a pace of 100 a year.

The committee was formed under Ehud Olmert's government in January. The aim is to bring back talented Israelis in three areas: industry, the public sector and academia. Subcommittees working under the auspices of the Absorption Ministry have been formed for each area. The recommendations of each subcommittee will be delivered to Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, who will present them to the cabinet by the end of August.

Rousso, who is working on the program as a volunteer, estimates that the plan will cost NIS 1.6 billion to implement over five years. He believes the bill should be shared by the state and industry. "The money will be returned through profits," he says. That's true not only of the businesses that participate, but of the state too, he argues. Increasing the budget of the Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Industry and Trade, an office that allocates government support for industry, will be returned through royalties to the state, he says.

The core of the program is financial incentive for Israelis who repatriate.

Beyond the Zionist aspect, bringing home the brains would restore growth to Israel's technology sector, which is responsible for 31% of exports and 9% of jobs, Rousso says. "Israelis don't realize it, but the growth spurt of technology has halted."