Aliyah from Former USSR Up a Bit, but Still Behind Last Year’s Level

Immigration to Israel rose by nearly a quarter in March, but the level is still far below last year’s total for the month.

The number of olim from the former Soviet republics rose 16 percent in March, but was still the second lowest monthly total since January 1990.

Aliyah from North America, on the other hand, was well ahead of the level at this time last year.

According to the Jewish Agency, 6,274 immigrants arrived in Israel last month, including 4,913 from the former Soviet Union. This is a 23.6 percent increase over February, when 5,077 people immigrated, including 4,233 from the former Soviet republics.

Last month’s aliyah figures are down more than 50 percent from March 1991, when 14,609 people immigrated. For Jews from the Soviet successor states, the drop is even greater: from 13,336 in March 1991 to just 4,913 last month.

Aliyah from the republics has been dropping more or less steadily since last June, when over 20,000 Jews immigrated. The March figures are the first indication that the bottom of the curve has been reached.

In New York, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society reported that 3,498 Jews from the former Soviet Union came to the United States in March under the government’s refugee program. This brings the total for the first half of the 1992 fiscal year to 23,173, well ahead of the 9,059 who came during the same period last year.

Whereas aliyah from the former Soviet republics seems to have hit a plateau, immigration to Israel from the United States and Canada is definitely on the upswing. The first three months of 1992 have witnessed a 25 percent increase in North American aliyah over the same period last year.

While aliyah officials say the increase is significant, they point out that the number of North American olim is still extremely small. In 1990, 1,924 North Americans moved to Israel, while 1,962 did so in 1991. Approximately 300 have come since the beginning of this year.

Jewish Agency spokesman Gad Ben-Ari attributes the rise to several factors. First, he said, “the agency’s North American office has made a tremendous effort to encourage aliyah over there. We feel that the time is right, that people are ready to try Israel.”

The sluggish American economy is another contributing factor. “The recession in the U.S. has certainly had an effect,” he said. “The American standard of living isn’t what it used to be.”

Perhaps most important, said the spokesman, is the “aliyah fever” that has swept Jewish communities around the world. “When Diaspora Jews see the great inpouring of Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, they are caught up in the wave, too,” he said.

“We would like to see people come to Israel not out of a sense of desperation but because things are so attractive here. That is what we are working toward.”

As for the future of immigration from the former Soviet republics, Ben-Ari adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

“The high unemployment rate among olim,” he said, “will keep potential olim away.”

The jobless rate among new immigrants is now more than triple the national average, according to figures released Tuesday by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Unemployment among immigrants has reached 36 percent, compared to 11 percent unemployment nationwide.

Of the 260,000 immigrants of working age who arrived in Israel since 1990, 48,000 have no jobs and are actively seeking employment, the Central Bureau reported.

Although the immigrants represent only 6 percent of Israel’s work force, they account for 24 percent of its unemployed, up from 15 percent in the first quarter of 1991.

“This kind of information has a drastic effect on peoples’ decision on whether or not to leave,” said Ben-Ari. “People are sitting on their suitcases, emotionally ready to leave, waiting for a positive signal from Israel, primarily regarding employment.”

Until that happens, he said, “many potential immigrants will stay where they are.”

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