A whole industry has cropped up to help people from countries of the former Soviet Union get Israeli citizenship within days.
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
Thousands of people who have supposedly emigrated to Israel from the countries of the former Soviet Union have really only become citizens in order to get an Israeli passport and do not live in the country, Makor Rishon reported on Sunday.
The paper said that it is a known phenomenon in the Jewish Agency, which facilitates the aliyah, or immigration, of those eligible under Israel’s Right of Return law.
“I estimate that about 25 percent of those who land here as immigrants from the CIS have ‘boarded’ for the passport and left the country immediately after receiving it,” said a senior official. CIS, or Commonwealth of Independent States, is the confederation of countries that used to form the Soviet Union.
The benefits of having such a passport include easier travel, as many countries that would require a Russian to have a visa do not require it of Israelis. It is also an insurance policy, as countries such as Ukraine are suffering from internal conflicts that could turn still uglier, and Israeli passport-holders will be able to escape much faster if necessary.
There is also a financial inducement to making aliyah, as each family receives 2,500 Israeli shekels as soon as they land in the country.
If they stay for up to half a year, as long as they open an Israeli bank account, they can receive tens of thousands of shekels over the first six months to help in their adjustment to Israel. It’s part of an “immigration basket,” a term used to describe a collection of benefits for new immigrants
The ministry told the weekly paper that 14 percent of the nearly 60,000 immigrants to Israel over the last three years, or some 8,500 people, “have not fully exercised their eligibility” to receive the immigration basket.
Since there are very few people who would turn down free money, the logical conclusion is that the vast majority have not taken it because they haven’t fulfilled the ministry’s minimal requirements.
The Jewish Agency representative explained why they suspect that the ministry’s numbers do not reflect the true scope of the problem.
“Some of those people come to Israel, stay for a few weeks, receive part of the absorption basket and then leave. They do not appear in the 14 percent statistic. Those who do not have an address in the country cannot be registered in the Ministry of Absorption. Therefore, they do not exist from a bureaucratic perspective and aren’t in the data,” the official said.
What is not disputed is that there are Russian companies openly advertising on Russian sites to help in the Israeli citizenship process. They promise passports within one-to-three days, instead of the normal three months’ waiting time, according to the report.
These companies promise to deal with Israeli bureaucracy, brief their clients on what to say at the Israeli embassy during their interviews to open an immigration portfolio, get them a “mailbox for a year” that they can use as an Israeli address, and accompany them to the airport.
One company, called Russia-Israel, says it will even assist them in getting a visa to the U.S., which may be the biggest inducement of all.
This particular commercial facilitator boasts that it has already assisted over a thousand families to obtain Israeli passports. The process isn’t cheap, though, as its VIP service costs €12,000 (~$13,222).