'Aliyah Express': Israel to Ease Immigration Process for Jewish Ukrainian Refugees

Jewish refugees fleeing war-torn Ukraine would be allowed to fly to Israel before proving that they are eligible for immigration ■ Over 4,000 immigrants from Ukraine have arrived in Israel since Russian invasion began

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Jewish Ukrainian immigrants at Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport last week.
Jewish Ukrainian immigrants at Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport last week. Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

To expedite the immigration to Israel of Jewish refugees fleeing war-torn Ukraine, the Jewish Agency announced on Monday plans to ease much of the bureaucracy involved.

Immigrants arriving in Israel under the Law of Return are usually required to obtain certification proving they are eligible before landing in the country. To receive this certification, they must provide proof of their Jewish roots, whether through birth and marriage certificates or other means, such as letters from rabbis. 

Leaders of the Jewish Agency told a press briefing that given the extenuating circumstances, the refugees from Ukraine would be allowed to fly to Israel before completing this lengthy process.

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“If in the past, this process would take two to three weeks, now we will require only four-to-five days of background checks before allowing them to board flights and continue the process in Israel,” said Yaakov Hagoel, the acting chairman of the Jewish Agency.

He said the Jewish Agency would allow refugees to board flights on the basis of simple proof of their Jewishness, such as having been accepted in the past to programs in Israel run by organizations like Birthright, Masa or Nativ. A requirement for participation in these programs is that candidates are eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, meaning that they have at least one Jewish grandparent.

The Jewish Agency leaders expressed confidence that most of those arriving in Israel through this new program called “Aliyah Express” would ultimately be deemed eligible for immigration. In case they were not, they would be treated as other Ukrainian tourists and be allowed to stay in Israel for a maximum of three months.

As part of the Aliyah Express program, Hagoel said, Israel would make available many more planes for airlifting the refugees from bordering countries. At the moment, 4,500 candidates for aliyah are awaiting flights to Israel. The Jewish Agency is, meanwhile, putting them up at 18 hotels in the bordering countries.

Since the start of the Russian invasion, Hagoel said, more than 4,000 immigrants from Ukraine had arrived in Israel.

He said the Jewish Agency expected “tens of thousands” more to arrive, including 1,500 in the coming week. Only 3,000 Ukrainian immigrants arrived in Israel in all of 2021.

The Jewish Agency was also seeing a dramatic rise in interest in aliyah from Russia and Belarus, he added.  “Our hotline has received 25,000 inquiries in recent week from people in these countries.”  

On another front, Hagoel said, the Jewish Agency was planning to begin an airlift of 3,000 Ethiopians deemed eligible for aliyah before the Passover holiday.

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