JERUSALEM (Feb. 3)
Jewish immigration to Israel from the republics of the former Soviet Union dipped slightly in January, despite uncertainties and unrest in the region.
Jewish Agency officials say the numbers could rise if the situation there worsens and if the Israeli job market continues to improve, and they are planning accordingly.
But they do not expect the deluge seen in recent years.
Out of the 6,900 Jews who made aliyah last month, 6,016 were from the former Soviet republics, according to figures provided by the Jewish Agency.
Another 3,880 Jews from the republics arrived in the United States last month under the government’s refugee program, according to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in New York.
The January figure to Israel was down from 6,745 in December, but reflects a 10 percent rise over the same month the previous year, according to the Soviet Jewry Research Bureau of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry in New York.
While more than a thousand immigrants are still streaming into Israel every week, aliyah is sharply down from three years ago. Immigration from the republics peaked around 182,000 in 1990, then declined to 145,000 in 1991 and 64,000 last year.
The Jewish Agency’s offices in Eastern Europe are predicting an increase this year in immigration from the republics, said spokesman Yehuda Weinraub. He said the number could go as high as 100,000.
JOBLESS RATE DROPPING
Weinraub said the renewed interest from the republics reflects, in part, heightened ethnic tensions and unrest in such places as Tajikistan and Moldova.
But he said it may also be a result of hopes that the new Israeli government will develop better absorption policies and foster an improved economic climate in Israel.
Weinraub pointed out that the unemployment rate among immigrants is dropping, and their presence in the work force is rising.
In the third quarter of last year, 72 percent of the immigrant work force was employed, which was a “big improvement” over the 60 percent employment figure in the same period the year before, he said.
Weinraub said there are more than 1 million Jews in the former Soviet republics who have taken an initial step toward emigration by securing permission from Israel to join their families here.
But he said the vast majority view it only as “an insurance policy” while they assess the situation, both at home and in Israel.
Officials from the Jewish Agency and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry said they are waiting to see what effect a new Russian law on emigration will have.
Before dissolving, the former Soviet Union passed a law making it unnecessary for citizens to obtain an exit visa before leaving the country.
The now-independent Russian Federation has adopted the law, which was to go into effect Jan. 1, but will now not be implemented until April.