Thursday, May 14, 2020

American Jews Dreaming of Moving to Israel May Have to Wait for Better Times 

It has been a matter of pride for Israel that Jewish immigration to the country has continued throughout the coronavirus pandemic. As the Jewish Agency has declared on numerous occasions in recent months: "Aliyah to Israel has never stopped and never will stop."

Indeed, when Israel decided to close its borders to foreign nationals two months ago to prevent the spread of the pandemic, it made one exception: immigrants.

Because many other countries also closed their borders and suspended commercial flights, in practice, the number of immigrants arriving has naturally slowed to a trickle. The United States has distinguished itself as one of the few countries from which aliyah was still possible.

But as a result of various bureaucratic obstacles – some, but not all, related to the pandemic – that no longer seems to be the case. In fact, it appears that immigrating to Israel from the United States these days has become all but impossible.

One of the main reasons is a brand-new requirement that all immigrants coming through Nefesh B'Nefesh – the organization that handles aliyah from North America on behalf of the Jewish Agency – complete a criminal background check. The new requirement came into effect earlier this month.

Criminal background checks can take many months in the United States, but in certain locations – such as the New York metropolitan area – the process cannot even begin at this time because the relevant offices are closed. A substantial share of the immigrants coming to Israel from the United States have traditionally been from the New York metropolitan area.

For the past 10 years, criminal background checks have been required of all individuals immigrating to Israel. The one exception was immigrants coming through Nefesh B'Nefesh, and the Israeli Interior Ministry had agreed to allow Nefesh B'Nefesh to conduct the background checks itself.


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