Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Israel's Ministry of Interior reports that 500,000 Israelis have returned home, about 15% of them following an 'extended stay' abroad.
The main reason given for returning home sooner than expected by young Israeli backpackers on their post-army extended travels was the virus and in particular, concern about the quality of healthcare in developing countries, parental pressure to return home, and because countries were being closed to tourism by the authorities (in Latin America and Thailand, for example). Other young Israelis were compelled to return home because courses at their universities abroad were halted, although for some it took time to sort out rental arrangements, tuition fees and the like.
For its part, Israel made major efforts to bring home these young people on 'rescue flights' from as far afield as Australia, India, Peru, Colombia and Argentina.
Another interesting group of Israelis returning home from 'extended stays' are those who historically have been called "Yordim" (those who had permanently left the country) but in recent times have spoken of relocation rather than emigration. There are an estimated 500,000 such Israelis, mainly living in Western developed countries, not including their children who were born abroad and often also hold Israeli citizenship. These include businesspeople, high-tech professionals, academics and many more. Many of these people have returned home because they were put on unpaid leave or were fleeing the coronavirus. For the most part these are people who have been out of Israel for no longer than three years.
One such person returning home is Israeli journalist and KAN Israel broadcasting corporation economics commentator Shaul Amsterdamski, who has been living with his family in Boston for the past 18 months. He said, "As the virus spread, it became clear that our place was not in the US. With a heavy heart, and sense of missing out, but with an understanding that the world is changing for everybody and there is not a big chance that by June everything will be fine and we can tour the West Coast as we planned, so we decided to come back. I carefully followed what was happening in Israel with the virus in terms of numbers, not the US."
However, among the more established Israeli emigrants there has not been much migration back home. But Jewish Agency emissary in Long Island, New York Gili Dvash told "Globes" that throughout the crisis there have been many enquiries from Israelis who have been in the US for many years about procedures for coming home and the rights of returning residents.
A large part of the returning Israelis do so because of the promised financial incentives. Those who have been abroad for less than 18 months are still entitled to National Insurance Institute benefits including unemployment pay (if they qualify) and medical treatment subject to a NIS 177 monthly back-payment for when they were away. These services are not withheld even if the debt to the National Insurance Institute has not been paid.
Returning Israelis who were abroad for more than 18 months and have not been paying the National Insurance Institute must wait for one month for every year they were abroad before being entitled to benefits. However, they can make payments and pay a penalty in order to receive immediate benefits including health services.
Returning Israelis who have been abroad for longer (longer than two years and in some cases three years) are entitled to other incentives including income tax incentives. There are also incentives for students who were studying in a recognized academic institute for more than 18 months.
Those abroad for more than five years are entitled to exemption from income tax for five years and from capital gains tax for 10 years.
A source at the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption told "Globes" that there is no plan to change these incentives and there are strong indications that there is a wave of returning Israelis because of Israel's relative success in handling the crisis compared with other countries including the US.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 19, 2020
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