Immigration to Israel Down Almost 50% in the First Half of 2020 Amid Coronavirus Crisis

Fewer than 500 Americans moved to Israel in January-June, official figures show, with total immigration down to 8,235 compared to 16,244 in same period last year

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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New immigrants from Ukraine walk down the stairs as their airplane lands at Ben Gurion International airport on December 22, 2014.
New immigrants from Ukraine walk down the stairs as their airplane lands at Ben Gurion International airport on December 22, 2014.Credit: AFP PHOTO/GIL COHEN-MAGEN
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

The number of immigrants arriving in Israel in the first half of the year was down nearly 50 percent, compared with the same period last year, according to figures compiled by the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration. The sharp downturn has been attributed to the global pandemic.

The figures show that 8,235 immigrants arrived in the country between January and June, compared with 16,244 in the same period last year. Since mid-March, when much of the world went into lockdown, immigration has slowed to a trickle, with international flights few and far between. All immigrants are required to spend 14 days in quarantine upon their arrival.

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Both the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration and the Jewish Agency, however, have been reporting a sharp increase in the number of individuals opening immigration files since the pandemic erupted. Based on this increase, they have said, they expect a major immigration wave once the healthcare crisis has been resolved. Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog recently predicted that 250,000 immigrants would come to Israel in the next five years.

In recent years, the number of immigrants arriving annually has hovered at 30,000.

An especially sharp increase was registered in the number of immigration files opened in France. But according to sources familiar with French Jewry, many French Jews have begun applying for aliyah, not because they want to move to Israel but because they want to obtain Israeli passports, which would allow them to travel freely to the country. Since mid-March, with few exceptions, only Israeli nationals and immigrants have been allowed into the country.

During the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, when France was hit hard and Israel seemed to have the virus under control, many French Jews had considered waiting out the crisis in Israel. They were told, however, that they could not travel to Israel if they did not hold Israeli passports. This is the main reason, the sources said, that many are applying for aliyah.

Nearly two-thirds of all the immigrants arriving in Israel in the first half of this year were from either Russia or Ukraine. A large share of them are not considered Jewish according to religious law, or halakha. The Law of Return allows any individual who has at least one Jewish grandparent, is married to a Jew or was converted to Judaism to immigrate to Israel and receive automatic citizenship. In other words, they do not have to be halakhically Jewish to immigrate.

Only 474 Americans moved to Israel between January and June – compared with 903 in the same period last year.

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