Related topics

Highly Educated Immigrants Have Trouble Finding Jobs

June 6, 1990

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Vladimir Kislik, a nuclear physicist who worked in a Soviet atomic weapons program, has had to take a job analyzing coal ashes.

Kislik, who arrived a year ago, is lucky to have work. Nearly one of every four Soviet Jewish immigrants is a highly educated professional, and Israel is having trouble absorbing such an influx of brain power.

″Israel cannot provide employment for the thousands of scientists who will immigrate in the next two years,″ Absorption Minister Yitzhak Peretz said recently.

Amos Rubin, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s economics adviser, said of the highly qualified professionals: ″If we absorb even one in 10 successfully, we know we are on the right track.″

This year’s immigration figures are staggering, and the volume caught Israeli officials by surprise.

The Jewish Agency, which assists immigrants, says each 100,000 immigrants from the Soviet Union includes nearly 23,000 professionals - about 11,000 engineers, 2,500 doctors and dentists, 2,000 scientists and roughly 7,000 others, such as computer specialists and nurses.

Up to 150,000 Soviet Jews are expected to arrive this year.

No figures are available on how the 10,000 professionals who arrived in the past six months have fared, but employment opportunities are limited.

Universities and government laboratories have places for only a small number engineers and researchers. Few high-tech jobs are being created in private industry because of a recession brought on, in part, by the 2 1/2 -year-old Palestinian uprising in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

There is fierce competition from Israel’s highly skilled labor force, of which professionals make up 24 percent, compared to 16 percent in the United States.

Israeli officials say unemployment for university graduates exceeds the nationwide average rate of 9 percent. Thousands of engineers and scientists have sought work abroad, mainly in the United States.

Haim Harari, a physicist who heads the respected Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, said earlier this year the Soviet immigrants should not receive preferential treatment.

″I can’t accept a situation where we create jobs only open to Russian immigrants and Israelis are in the United States waiting to come back, but can’t find jobs,″ he said. ″It’s sheer idiocy to export our people to the United States and import Russians.″

Problems of settling the immigrants have been exacerbated by political instability since the collapse March 15 of the coalition government of the right-wing Likud bloc and center-left Labor Party.

Among other things, it delayed appropriation of an extra $1 billion for the program.

Private programs have been organized, but they help only a relative few of the newcomers.

For example, SATEC, a small high-tech firm in Jerusalem that hired Kislik, was founded two years ago to hire Soviet scientists. Australian businessman Joseph Gunick put up $3 million.

The company, which makes digital electricity meters and technology to extract gold from low-grade ores, employs 35 recent arrivals from the Soviet Union. Scientific director Herman Branover, who came from the Soviet Union in 1972, said the company was making a modest profit.

SATEC remains unique. Branover said he tried to duplicate it, but failed because foreign investors would not finance high-risk ventures in a country with unstable politics and an infamous bureaucracy.

″I’m very angry, especially with the American Jews,″ Branover said. ″They have been marching for years on Fifth Avenue, shouting ‘Let my people go’. Now that the Russians are indeed coming, the American Jews are doing very little.″

Rubin, the adviser to Shamir, said any government employment program for Soviet professionals must focus on investment in high-tech firms. As a way to lure foreign capital, Rubin said, he had proposed that the government guarantee two-thirds of an investment.

He predicted rising unemployment, tax increases and a reduction in social services for all Israelis because of an immigration rate that, on a per capita basis, would amount to 20 million arrivals a year in the United States.

Branover said most of the newcomers were ready to make sacrifices.

″We have people here who used to be managers of giant factories with 5,000 employees, and they are happy to get a job as a simple engineer,″ he said.

Kislik, 54, knows about sacrifices.

After requesting permission to emigrate to Israel in 1973, he was sent to a Soviet labor camp for three years, confined to a psychiatric hospital for a month and beaten repeatedly by agents of the KGB secret police.

His wife divorced him. He couldn’t work as a scientist, and made a living as a bookbinder and ticket seller in Kiev.

He longs to work again in nuclear physics, but has resigned himself to analyzing coal ashes in his tiny lavender cubicle at SATEC.

″It was my dream to come to Israel, and I fought for this, and I think it has been worth it,″ Kislik said.

Update hourly