According figures released on February 12 by Israel's national statistics bureau, the country had 66,000 immigrants in 1997, down seven percent from 1996. About 83 percent of the immigrants in 1997 were from the ex-USSR, especially Ukraine, 2,000 were from the US, and 1,900 were from France.
Since 1989, some 846,000 Jews from the ex-USSR have migrated to Israel, which has a population of 5.5 million; about one in seven Israeli residents is an immigrant from the ex-USSR who arrived within the past 10 years. The peak year of immigration was 1990, when 200,000 Jews arrived from the former USSR.
Israel in February announced plans to reduce the foreign share of the 2.1 million work force from the current 10 percent to one percent by 2003, and to rely on Palestinians rather than Romanians and Thais. There are currently 74,000 foreign workers in the Israeli construction sector and Israel plans to cut that number to 50,000 in 1998, and then by another 10,000 a year. An estimated 30,000 Palestinians have permits to commute to jobs in Israel and another 30,000 are illegally employed in Israel.
Some 62,000 Palestinians have permits that allow them to work in Israel, but half cannot find jobs because, it is alleged, employers prefer non-Palestinian foreign workers.
Israel ordered 300,000 gas masks for foreign workers after the Attorney General concluded that Israel is obliged to supply gas masks to the entire population, including foreign workers. There are about 60,000 foreign construction workers and 12,000 foreign nurses.
In Lebanon, union leaders complaining of competition from foreign workers estimated that $4 billion is sent out of Lebanon in remittances each year. There are an estimated 1.25 million foreign workers in Lebanon, which has a population of four million. Most work in construction and agriculture.
"Immigration to Israel slides in 1997," Agence France Presse, February 12, 1998. "Immigration to Israel dips in 1997," Reuters, February 11, 1998.