Immigration to Israel Plunges to Lowest Point in Nearly 3 Years

Immigration to Israel, which has been declining steadily in recent months, hit its lowest point in nearly three years last month, confirming that the aliyah wave which began in 1989 is losing momentum.

According to the Jewish Agency, a total of 4,142 immigrants arrived here in May, a 26 percent decrease from the month before and only a quarter of the number who came in May 1991.

The biggest factor was the drop in immigration from the republics of the former Soviet Union, which totaled 3,360 last month, down from 4,696 in April.

In fact, for the first time since the fall of 1989, more Jews from those republics arrived in the United States than in Israel last month.

In New York, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society reported that 3,608 Jews from the Soviet successor states arrived in the United States in May under the government’s refugee program, a slight increase that brought the total for the year to 18,207.

By comparison a total of 23,439 Jews from the former Soviet republics have immigrated to Israel so far this calendar year, significantly fewer than the 76,221 who came in the first five months of 1991, according to the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.

But officials are quick to point out that the two pools of immigrants are unrelated, since those coming to the United States are mainly people who have long waited to reunite with family members already in America.

HIGH UNEMPLOYMENT RATE CITED

Israeli officials appear to be resigned to the fact that the flood of immigrants is slowing down.

“The wave of aliyah is losing momentum, and there are growing signs that this sluggishness is not temporary but, rather, an indication of a global erosion in aliyah,” said Simcha Dinitz, chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive.

He warned that “if the outlook for jobs for immigrants does not improve substantially, we may eventually lose the chance to bring Jews to Israel.”

The Soviet Jewry Zionist Forum, an advocacy group for new immigrants, agrees that the high rate of unemployment among olim — 30 to 40 percent — is responsible for the slowdown.

According to its spokeswoman, Debra Lipson, “those who are already living here send letters back to their relatives and friends advising them to delay their departure whenever possible.”

Of the 1.2 million people in the republics who have requested invitations to join their families in Israel, about 100,000 possess visas.

“Despite the high prices and problems over there, these Jews feel that they should stay put temporarily, that it’s better to come later rather than sooner,” said Lipson.

At the moment, she added, “we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. The government has not dealt with the problem of immigrant absorption as a national priority. The numbers speak for themselves.”

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