he number of immigrants to Israel increased by 17% during 2009 - reaching 16,200 people, compared with 13,860 people in 2008, the Ministry of Absorption and the Jewish Agency reported Sunday.
The data, which was presented during a joint press conference Sunday, showed that 221,000 new immigrants moved to Israel during the last decade.
This year, no Falashmura Ethiopians immigrated to Israel, due to government restrictions. Despite this, Chair of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky expressed hope that the government will allow some 8,700 people who are staying at transfer camps in Addis Ababa and Gundar to immigrate to Israel in the near future.
Sharansky noted that the Agency is ready to act according to the determined policy, and that 250 immigrants from Ethiopia are set to arrive to Israel in January, after receiving proper permission from the Interior Ministry.
According to the data presented, there were some 7,120 immigrants from the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe during 2009, compared with 5,867 in 2008 (an increase of 21%).
Also, there were some 5,300 immigrants from English speaking countries (including North America, Britain, South Africa etc') compared with 4,511 the previous year (an increase of 17%).
A new immigrant touches the promised land (Photo: AFP)
A slight increase was also recorded among immigrants from Western Europe (some 2,600 compared with 2,402), as well as from Latin America (1,230 compared with 1,078 in 2008).
Approximately 60% of the new immigrants are under the age of 35.
Where else do they hail from?
In 2009, 47 immigrants arrived to Israel from Yemen, 25 arrived from Morocco, 13 from Tunisia and three from Lebanon. Four others preferred Israel to Hong Kong, and a similar number came from the Island of Mauritius. Three immigrants arrived from Japan, three more from China and two from Honduras. Four additional immigrants arrived each from Martinique, Madagascar, Kenya and Taiwan.
In the last days of 2009, four more flights of the Jewish Agency will arrive in Israel, carrying some 210 immigrants from South Africa, France and England. An additional 200 newcomers will arrive from North America in a joint project of the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B'Nefesh organization.
Sharansky announced Sunday that the Agency will begin running a special program to encourage immigration and immigrant absorption called "the red carpet".
The program, which helps with the initial absorption needs of new immigrants, will offer personal accompaniment that starts before the immigrant leaves his country, and is carried through until touch down – with the help of volunteers.
Also, the new immigrants will participate in an immigration fair that takes place 24 hours after their arrival, in which the immigrant can learn about various companies and organizations that offer different services and assistance (banks, Health Maintenance Organization, National Insurance Institute and more).
A pilot program was already tested during 2009 and helped with the absorption of some 1,800 immigrants that arrived in nine Jewish Agency flights from various destinations.
The Agency also noted that their operations have expanded to include new populations across the globe. "Every immigrant strengthens the State of Israel and is an essential strategic asset for the country," said Sharansky.
"The increase in immigration on the 20th anniversary of the beginning of immigration from the former Soviet Union is symbolic. We are also witnessing an unprecedented growth in the number of Israelis who are returning home," said Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver.