Despite Rosy Projections, 2020 Could Be Worst Year for Aliyah in Nearly a Decade

According to the Jewish Agency, immigration to Israel is down 36 percent in the first four months and 86 percent in April, stung by the coronavirus

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Immigrants from Ethiopia arriving in Israel during the coronavirus crisis, spring 2020.
Immigrants from Ethiopia arriving in Israel during the coronavirus crisis, spring 2020.Credit: Avshalom Shoshani/Flash 90

Organizations promoting and facilitating immigration to Israel are predicting a major spike in aliyah because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has taken a toll on Jewish communities around the world while sparing Israel for the most part.

But, based on figures for the first four months, 2020 could be the worst year for aliyah in nearly a decade.

According to data from the Jewish Agency, between January and April, 6,368 immigrants arrived in the country – a drop of 36 percent from the same period last year. April alone saw a record low influx of immigrants for any month, 350, a drop of 86 percent from last April.

Why 2020 could be worst year for aliyah in nearly a decadeCredit: Haaretz

This downturn has been attributed to the world health crisis, which has made it difficult to fly to Israel and has caused unusually long delays in the aliyah application and approval process.

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The Jewish Agency figures show that more than 70 percent of the immigrants in January-April were from the former Soviet Union, the overwhelming majority of them from Russia. Only 342 immigrants were from the United States, with a similar number from France. Another 117 came from Ethiopia.

In the first four months of the year, only 21 imilmigrants came from Italy – one of the countries hardest hit by the global pandemic. Another 100 came from Britain. From most other European countries, the numbers were negligible, in most cases fewer than 10.

Seventeen new immigrants from North America at Ben-Gurion Airport, May 5, 2020.Credit: Yonit Schiller

Immigration from Latin America, by contrast, was hardly affected by the pandemic. A total of 509 immigrants from Latin America arrived in Israel in January-April, down 1 percent from the same period last year. Most of the new arrivals were from Brazil and Argentina.

Indeed, Argentina was one of two countries around the world to have more people emigrate to Israel in the first four months of this year than in the same period last year. Aliyah from Argentina was up 29 percent in January-April, with 168 Jews from there moving to Israel.

The other exception was also a Southern Hemisphere country: 116 South African Jews made aliyah in the first third of the year – a 3 percent rise.

An 86 percent decrease in immigration to Israel this April compared to last AprilCredit: Haaretz

Israel went into lockdown in mid-March, and since then, with the exception of approved immigrants and participants in educational programs possessing visas, only Israelis have been allowed into the country. All people arriving are required to quarantine themselves for 14 days.

Speaking at the Haaretz Judaism conference two weeks ago, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog said “a big aliyah wave” could be expected once the coronavirus crisis was resolved. This prediction, he said, was based on a rise in the number of inquiries received by Jewish Agency offices from people considering aliyah.

The secretary-general of the Jewish Agency, Josh Schwarcz, told a Knesset committee last week that as many as 50,000 immigrants could arrive in 2021. Nefesh B’Nefesh, the organization responsible for facilitating immigration from North America, has also reported considerable interest in aliyah since the coronavirus outbreak.

Ethiopian immigrants welcomed at Ben-Gurion airport, February, 25, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Israel took in more than 35,600 immigrants in 2019, the best year for aliyah in a decade. Most of the growth last year was fueled by an especially large increase in the number of immigrants from Russia.

Based on current trends, the immigrant total this year will fall below 20,000. The last time the number dipped that low was 2012.

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