4,000 U.S. Jews Moved to Israel in 2021 – the Most in Nearly 50 Years

Overall immigration was up 24 percent from 2020, with increased numbers of olim from France, South Africa and Argentina, as well as the U.S. However, the numbers are still nearly 25 percent lower than in pre-pandemic times

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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A group of new immigrants arriving in Israel. Aliyah figures are up for 2021, but still down on pre-pandemic times.
A group of new immigrants arriving in Israel. Aliyah figures are up for 2021, but still down on pre-pandemic times.Credit: Yonit Schiller
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Immigration to Israel from the United States hit a nearly 50-year record in 2021, though total aliyah has still not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, government figures published on Wednesday show.

According to the figures, which were published jointly by the Aliyah and Integration Ministry and the Jewish Agency, an estimated 4,000 American Jews will have made aliyah by the end of this year – the largest number for a single year since 1973.

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Immigration from France, South Africa and Argentina also rose dramatically in 2021.

All told, a total of 27,057 immigrants arrived in Israel by mid-December – an increase of 24 percent over 2020, which was a particularly bad year for aliyah because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The total number of immigrants arriving in Israel in 2021 will still be nearly 25 percent lower than it was in 2019, based on the preliminary figures.

Speaking at a press briefing in Jerusalem, Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata said: “Despite the pandemic and all sorts of restrictions, immigration to Israel has not stopped. We are thrilled to welcome the tens of thousands of immigrants who chose to make Israel their home this year and who serve as an incredible driver of economic growth.”

Number of new immigrants moving to Israel, 2016-2021

In June 2020, a few months after the coronavirus struck, Tamano-Shata had predicted that over the next year and a half – that is, by the end of December 2021 – some 90,000 immigrants would arrive in Israel. At the time, Israel seemed to be faring much better than other countries when it came to keeping the virus under control. It is now clear that her forecast was way off the mark, considering that in 2020 and 2021 together, fewer than 50,000 immigrants arrived in the country.

Israel has continued to allow immigrants in throughout the pandemic. Still, aliyah slowed down considerably in 2020 both because flights were few and far between, and because it became increasingly difficult for prospective immigrants to complete their paperwork requirements as many government offices were closed or working limited hours.

According to the government figures, the number of American Jews moving to Israel grew by almost 40 percent this year compared with 2020. As recently reported in Haaretz, ultra-Orthodox Jews are accounting for a growing share of the aliyah from the United States in recent years.

The number of immigrants from France this year is expected to total about 3,500 – up by 40 percent as well.

Since the pandemic erupted, there has been evidence of growing numbers of Diaspora Jews, especially from the United States and France, applying for aliyah – not because they intend to relocate to Israel, but instead so that they can obtain Israeli passports and avoid being barred entry into the country. Israel had never closed its borders to overseas Jews before March 2020. Tamano-Shata said this certainly did not explain the sharp rise in aliyah from these countries this year.

Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-ShataCredit: Marc Israel Sellem

The figures show that 550 South African Jews moved to Israel this year – the largest number in any given year since the fall of the apartheid regime in the early 1990s. It was an increase of more than 50 percent from last year. Virtually every month this year, an organized planeload of immigrants from South Africa has landed in Israel.

Another 900 immigrants came from Argentina – also up 50 percent from the previous year. This was the largest number of immigrants from this South American country since 2003.

Even though immigration from Russia did not increase dramatically this year, the country continued to hold its long-standing title of being the largest supplier of immigrants to Israel. Some 7,500 immigrants from Russia are expected to arrive in Israel by the end of this year – an increase of 10 percent from 2020.

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