Immigration From Former Soviet Union to Israel Higher in 2015 Than Any Year in Past Decade

Rising inflation, a falling ruble, Western sanctions and a tense security situation have led many to search for a better life in Israel.

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Immigrants from the former Soviet Union at Ben-Gurion International Airport, February 1991.
Immigrants from the former Soviet Union at Ben-Gurion International Airport, February 1991.Credit: Natan Alpert / GPO
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

This year brought more immigrants from the countries of the former Soviet Union than any year in the past decade, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry said Tuesday.

Immigrants from these countries accounted for about half of the 30,000 people who moved to Israel in 2015. The 15,000 immigrants who came from the former Soviet Union this year represent an increase of over 20 percent from last year’s figure of 12,328 and are more than two and a half times the number that arrived in 2008 - 5,847 immigrants. Altogether, more than 220,900 people have emigrated from these countries since 2000.

“This is economic immigration,” said Roman Polonsky, head of the Jewish Agency’s unit for Russian-speaking Jewry. “The massive increase we’ve seen in recent years from the countries of the former Soviet Union is influenced by the economic situation in Russia, which is also causing movement in the surrounding countries.”

Rising inflation, a falling ruble and Western sanctions have resulted in people from Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia and other former Soviet countries moving to Israel in search of a better life, Polonsky explained. The main exception is Ukraine, where last year’s massive surge in immigration was due primarily to the security situation, he noted. That surge continued this year, with Ukraine accounting for 45 percent of all immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Overall, immigration was up almost 10 percent compared to 2014, when 27,500 immigrants arrived. The increase is also due to an all-time high in the number of French immigrants, who totaled 7,900 this year, up from 7,200 last year.

About 50 percent of all new immigrants in 2015 were 30 or younger. There was a particular surge in immigrants under age 19, with 8,200 arriving this year, up 20 percent from 2014.

The city that absorbed the most new immigrants this year was Tel Aviv, with 3,620. It was followed by Netanya (3,500), Jerusalem (3,030) and Haifa (2,250).

“We’re in a rare window of opportunity,” Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin said on Tuesday, adding that the Israeli public hadn’t “paid attention to the most significant event that occurred this year: the number of immigrants crossed the 30,000 mark for the first time in more than a decade.”

“The number of immigrants has grown by 50 percent over the last two years,” he continued. “It’s our duty to everything possible to exploit this rare opportunity” by facilitating absorption and encouraging further immigration, “so that even the figure of 50,000 a year won’t seem fantastic.”

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