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Monday, 24 March 2008

Knesset members launch caucus to aid immigration from the West

Knesset members launch caucus to aid immigration from the West
By Daphna Berman
A Knesset caucus to promote western aliyah was formed yesterday, amid
warnings that the unsolved ulpan dispute could leave new immigrants
without free Hebrew instruction beginning September 1, a situation that
is expected to negatively affect immigration rates.
The caucus, headed by MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) and MK Yoel Hasson
(Kadima), is aiming to reduce bureaucratic barriers surrounding aliyah,
as well as further legislation - including sizable tax breaks - to
encourage western immigration. Licensing difficulties that face a number
of immigrants as they try to establish themselves professionally here,
as well as the economic difficulties involved in relocating, are also on
the caucus agenda. "One of the issues we're looking into is providing
tax benefits for immigrants to encourage aliyah," Erdan told Haaretz
yesterday at the caucus launch.

"If a lawyer comes to Israel and his salary is cut in half, one
possibility is that in his first two years here, he will be exempt from
income tax. Usually, the finance minister isn't willing to talk about
these issues, but if enough Knesset members get involved, we can put
this on the agenda. Two years of exemption from income tax can be the
difference in whether someone decides to make aliyah or not."
Government officials, however, warned that with the looming ulpan
crisis, western aliyah remains in danger - despite positive intentions
aimed at assisting immigrants. In December, the Education Ministry
announced it was handing over the responsibility for the ulpan system to
the Absorption Ministry, a decision the Education Ministry said was the
result of painful budget cuts.
The two offices set up an inter-ministerial committee to examine the
issue, but little progress has been made, officials say. "As of today,
come September 1, a new immigrant will not get even one minute of ulpan
study (as part of their absorption basket)," Erez Halfon, director
general of the Absorption Ministry said at yesterday's launch. Halfon
said that the Absorption Ministry is working hard to find a solution to
the problem, but added that at this stage, "there is reason for worry."
About a dozen MKs, representing most of the Knesset factions, are
expected to be active in the caucus, officials said. Yesterday's launch
brought together ministry representatives, as well as officials from the
Jewish Agency, Nefesh B'Nefesh, and AMI, the French aliyah organization.
Immigrant groups like the Association of Americans and Canadians in
Israel (AACI) and Telfed, the South African Zionist Federation, were
also present.
The caucus, which is now hoping to become a clearing house of sorts, is
expected to convene again next month.

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