Immigrant unemployment drops below national level

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JERUSALEM — The number of recent immigrants to Israel who are unemployed has declined significantly and compares favorably with the national unemployment rate, according to Yair Tsaban, Israel's minister of absorption.

Addressing a special Cabinet session last week devoted entirely to issues regarding aliyah (immigration), Tsaban reported that unemployment among recent arrivals declined in 1995 to 6.5 percent. The figure was 33 percent in 1992.

The current national unemployment rate is 6.9 percent, Tsaban said.

But the minister said the full potential of the immigrants is not being realized, since many of them are still not employed in the professions for which they had trained.

Tsaban also identified two serious problems confronting the immigrants, most of whom are from the former Soviet Union.

Although 70 percent of all new immigrant families have purchased their own homes, there are still more than 40,000 families who cannot afford to do so, Tsaban said.

These families are in desperate need of government-subsidized, low-rent housing, he said, adding that the problem is particularly acute for 12,000 elderly olim (immigrant) couples.

Tsaban called upon the government to quickly build low-rent apartments to rectify the situation.

The second problem is the negative stereotypes that Israelis have of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, he said.

Some Israelis associate those immigrants with prostitution, drunkenness and crime, he said.

Last week's Cabinet session also was the scene of a stormy exchange between Tsaban and Uri Gordon, head of the Jewish Agency for Israel's Department of Immigration.

Tsaban criticized the Jewish Agency for reneging on its commitments to co-sponsor several absorption programs, including the establishment of an artists' absorption center and the running of the immigrants' Student Authority. Deputy Education Minister Micha Goldman issued similar charges.

But Gordon, describing Tsaban's claims as "scandalous," said that despite the agency's financial difficulties, there will be no cuts in its immigration or Jewish education budgets.

Gordon blamed the agency's financial difficulties on the decline in funds transferred to Israel by diaspora campaigns.

The agency and the government are now examining the possibilities for increased cooperation, a process that will result in a new order of priorities for the agency, he added.

In April, the Jewish Agency, confronted with a $30 million budget deficit, announced across-the-board budget cuts.

During its recent assembly in Jerusalem, the agency approved a $519 million budget for 1995. The agency also called upon diaspora Jewish federations to upgrade their annual donations to Israel.

Also last week, the Central Bureau of Statistics announced that since January of this year, 34,500 new immigrants arrived in Israel.

This represented a 2 percent increase over a similar period last year, according to the bureau.

Of this year's new immigrants, 29,800 came from the former Soviet Union; 1,600 from Europe; 550 from Asia; 850 from African countries and 1,700 from the United States and countries in the Pacific.

Tsaban told the Cabinet that Israel can expect an annual flow of 50,000 to 60,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union during the next few years, provided that no dramatic changes take place there.

A record number of Israelis have also been returning to the country, Tsaban said. In 1990, only 5,000 Israelis returned to live in the Jewish state, but 14,000 Israelis have returned in each of the past two years.