The emigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union has increased in the last two months due to political instability here and fading hopes for the eventual stabilization of the economy, according to an Israeli Embassy official here who is responsible for emigration matters.
Around 6,000 Israeli immigrant visas were issued in September and October, said Alexander Libin, the embassy official, up from an average of a little more than 4,000 a month during the summer months.
The number of visas issued is an indicator of immigration trends, because prospective immigrants usually arrive in Israel three or four months after getting the visa.
Libin attributed the increase to regional political instability in the non- Slavic areas of the former union, such as Tajikistan, Georgia and the Ossetia region of the northern Caucasus in Russia.
In Tajikistan, for example, several hundred Jews have left in recent weeks by direct flights to Israel to escape clan warfare there.
At the same time, said Libin, “people in Russia itself are less hopeful about the future” in light of continued inflation and economic uncertainty.
Added uncertainty surrounds the fate of economic reform, which may be slowed or stopped altogether by conservative forces in the Russian parliament, whose Congress of People’s Deputies is set to meet next month in Moscow.
“Other factors are also at work,” said Libin. “The process of privatizing apartments has been proceeding in a number of Russian cities, and that can play a role in peoples’ decisions to emigrate,” he said.
Once privatized, apartments can be sold to raise money for immigration to Israel.
In the larger cities in the European part of the former union, such as Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kiev, apartments are commonly sold for U.S. dollars. A two- or three-room apartment in central Moscow can fetch between $35,000 and $50,000, while apartments in peripheral locations may be sold for $15,000 to $20,000.
Sellers bound for Israel frequently request that the purchase price be paid to trusted relatives or friends already in Israel, so that Russian restrictions on the export of currency are avoided.
“We’ve also opened a number of new consulates around the union, so it’s easier to get an Israeli visa,” said Libin, citing another factor in the emigration surge.
Prospective immigrants in places like Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, and Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, no longer need to travel to Moscow to apply for a visa because there are now Israeli consulates in those cities.
Travel inside the former union has become extremely expensive by local standards and uncertain because of shortages of airplane fuel and parts. A round-trip ticket from Tashkent to Moscow, for example, costs 6,000 rubles ($15), about the average monthly wage here.
Despite the increase, immigration levels are still far below those of 1990 and the first half of 1991. The main influence on immigration, Libin said, is still concern over finding jobs and housing in Israel.