Israeli emigration rates at all-time low
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Israeli emigration rates at all-time low

Despite high cost of living and much handwringing, data shows decline in citizens relocating abroad

Ben Gurion in February 2012 (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Ben Gurion in February 2012 (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Despite much national hand-wringing that suggested otherwise, Israel’s notoriously high cost of living is not driving its citizens to relocate abroad.

According to Central Bureau of Statistics data, emigration rates are even declining. The figures suggest that Israelis are much less inclined to permanently leave the country than they were ten or twenty years ago, with 2012, the last year for which figures on long-term emigration are available, showing the lowest emigration rates since the founding of the state in 1948.

Israelis have seen a surge in concerns over emigration and complaints about the high cost of living over the past month, especially on social media. Facebook groups such as “Olim LeBerlin” — a group dedicated to assisting Israeli expats in Berlin — have gained thousands of followers.

The name of the group plays off the Hebrew term for immigration to Israel — “aliya” or “ascent” — but uses it to urge Israelis to move to Berlin.

The burgeoning cost of living has been a hot topic in Israel for years, culminating in massive protests in 2011 that saw hundreds camp out in city streets throughout the country, and hundreds of thousands at protest rallies, demanding that the government take action to make food and housing more affordable. This year’s dismay over the cost of living, dubbed by Israeli media as the “Milky protests” after a popular chocolate pudding snack, has prompted speculation in news outlets that more and more Israelis were poised to give up their Zionist aspirations and head abroad in search for better fortune.

But when the emigration figures are broken down, a different story emerges. Some 15,900 Israelis left Israel for over a year in 2012, but about 13,500 Israeli expats returned — for a net loss of 2,400 citizens, compared to an average of nearly 10,000 per year between 1986 and 2008. In fact, according to border control officials, approximately a quarter of those who emigrated in 2012 and remained abroad for over a year have since returned as well.

This net loss of 2,400 Israeli citizens in 2012 does not include figures for aliya, or Jewish immigration and naturalization, which contributed another 18,000 new citizens in 2012. In other words, through migration alone, Israel gained over 15,000 citizen-residents that year.

CBS officials noted that Israel’s emigration rates are low even when compared to other OECD member countries, according to The Marker, an Israeli business journal, with an average of less than one emigrant per 1,000 citizens.

The figures also show that over 50% of Israelis who leave had immigrated to Israel, with many of those choosing to return to their country of origin.

Based on emigration rates since 1948, it is estimated that between 549,000 and 582,000 Israelis are currently living abroad, with over a quarter of them residing in the US. Nearly 25,000 Israelis live in Canada, 14,000 in Germany, 13,500 in the UK, 10,100 in Australia and 8,700 in France, The Marker reported. Other Israeli expat centers include Holland, Spain, Switzerland, Brazil, Chile and Ecuador.

Adiv Sterman and Spencer Ho contributed to this report.

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