Why Aliyah From France, Argentina and Chile Surged in First Half of 2021

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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A group of new immigrants after arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport last year.
A group of new immigrants after arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport last year.Credit: Yonit Schiller
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Immigration to Israel rebounded in the first half of this year but is still not back to pre-pandemic levels, government figures obtained by Haaretz show.

According to Aliyah and Integration Ministry figures, a total of 11,824 new immigrants arrived in Israel between January and June 2021 – up 30 percent from the same period last year, but 20 percent lower than the same period in 2019.

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Early on in the coronavirus crisis, government and Jewish Agency officials were predicting that Israel’s initial success in keeping the virus under control would fuel a wave of aliyah. That has yet to happen.

As a matter of policy, Israel allowed immigrants into the country throughout the pandemic, with rare exceptions. But because flights were limited and travel was subject to severe restrictions, aliyah slowed down dramatically last year.

Because 2020 was such an unusual year, officials engaged in monitoring aliyah prefer to compare this year’s figures with those of 2019. Particularly noteworthy when drawing such comparisons are the countries that defied the overall downward trend. These increases are especially significant considering that Israel was under strict lockdown earlier this year and did not allow flights into the country, including those carrying Israelis and immigrants.

Aliyah from France in the first of the year, for example, was up nearly 60 percent, compared with the first half of 2019. The figures show that a total of 1,339 French immigrants arrived in Israel between January and June.

The jump was even more dramatic in the case of Argentina. A total of 367 immigrants from the South American country arrived in Israel during the first six months of this year – an increase of 87 percent from the same period in 2019.

Argentina was the only country in the world with a significant-sized Jewish population to have sent more immigrants to Israel in 2020 than the previous year. The surge in aliyah from Argentina has been attributed predominantly to the dire state of the local economy.

Another South American country to defy the overall trend was Chile. For the first time in many years, aliyah from Chile showed a remarkable increase, even if the absolute numbers are still low.

The figures show that between January and June, 80 Chilean Jews moved to Israel – a fourfold increase from the first half of 2019. This development has been attributed to concerns within the Jewish community that Daniel Jadue, a communist candidate of Palestinian origin who has strongly criticized Israel, could win the upcoming presidential election in November.

A group of Mexicans making aliyah to Israel last year.Credit: JACK GUEZ / AFP

Aliyah was up from the United States as well, but not that sharply. A total of 1,172 Americans moved to Israel between January and June – an increase of 17 percent from the corresponding period in 2019.

Similar trends were evident in two other English-speaking countries: South Africa and Great Britain. The figures show that 209 South African Jews moved to Israel in the first half of this year, an increase of 27 percent from the same period in 2019. Another 269 Jews immigrated from Britain during that period, a small increase of 4 percent on 2019.

Although aliyah from Russia was down 60 percent in the first half of the year (compared with the first half of 2019), the country was still the single largest supplier of immigrants to Israel in that six-month period.

A total of 3,135 Russian immigrants moved to Israel between January and June.

The number of immigration files opened through the Jewish Agency tends to provide a good indication of future aliyah trends. While immigration was down in 2020, the number of aliyah files opened by prospective immigrants rose sharply following the outbreak of the pandemic. In many cases, Jews abroad seemingly opened aliyah files not because they wanted to move to Israel, but because they wanted to obtain Israeli passports so they would not be barred from the country. Indeed, since the beginning of the pandemic, almost all foreigners have not been allowed into Israel.

In this case as well, aliyah officials prefer to compare the first half of 2021 with the equivalent period in 2019 rather than 2020. According to figures provided by the Jewish Agency, a total of 3,939 aliyah files were opened in the United States between January and June 2021 – an increase of nearly 50 percent compared with the same period in 2019. In Britain, 501 files were opened, an increase of 41 percent. In France, 2,398 files were opened, a 66 percent increase.

In Argentina, the number of files opened, though much smaller in absolute numbers, increased nearly threefold, and in Chile nearly fourfold.

Depending on the country, somewhere between 10 percent and 50 percent of those individuals who open aliyah files ultimately end up immigrating to Israel.

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