Immigrants kiss the ground in Israel
Immigrants kiss the ground in Israel Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90

Israel will be unable to handle a large wave of immigration expected into the country following the coronavirus pandemic, a Knesset committee warned, citing recent budget cuts to organizations involved in facilitating immigration.

On Wednesday, the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee held a discussion on the upcoming wave of immigration expected over the next few years.

Fueled in part by the global coronavirus pandemic, economic crises created by governmental efforts to combat the pandemic, and a rise in anti-Semitism, Israel predicts it could receive as many as 90,000 new immigrants in 2021 – nearly three times the number of immigrants in 2019.

But committee members warned Wednesday that Israel may not be able to handle this surge in immigration, noting that budgets for immigration and absorption had been cut.

Nativ, the government bureau which helps facilitate immigration from Eastern Europe, had its budget slashed from 80 million shekels ($23.2 million) in 2015 to 56 million shekels ($16.2 million) in 2020, said Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), who is in charge of the program.

The Committee Chairman, David Bitan, called to increase Nativ’s budget by 10 million shekels to help it speed up the processing of applications filed by prospective immigrants.

Nativ, which assesses the eligibility of potential immigrants to move to Israel under the Law of Return, already has a six-month waiting period for prospective immigrants looking to receive an appointment at the Israeli embassy in Moscow to check whether they qualify for citizenship.

“The significance of this is that anyone who decides to make Aliyah will be able to actually do it only a year from now," he said. “In the meantime, he can, of course, change his mind, and we will lose this oleh (immigrant)."

MK Alex Kushnir (Yisrael Beytenu), the former acting director of Nativ, warned that “with such a budget the organization will not be able to function, and this means, unequivocally, that people who are eligible to make Aliyah will not be able to arrive.”

Committee Chairman MK David Bitan (Likud) said Israel “must prepare the organizational and budgetary infrastructure” needed to meet the increase in immigration, lamenting the current shortage of consuls in Israeli embassies in Eastern Europe “and a manpower shortage in Nativ for checking eligibility for Aliyah of the expected applicants."