Information on the procedures immigrants from the former Soviet Union have to follow upon arrival [ISR21636.E]

The following interview was conducted with the Director of Planning and Research Division of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. The interview was held in Jerusalem on 1 May 1995. A second interview was held in Jerusalem on 9 May 1995.

There is a special terminal in the airport for the arrival of new immigrants on a charter plane. The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption representative meets the new immigrants on the steps outside the plane to give them a short briefing. When olim arrive on a regular flight, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption representative meets them in the regular terminal and directs them to the special immigrants' terminal where they receive a short briefing. The Ministry representatives at the airport and, after their establishment in the country, provide assistance to all who arrive with an oleh Visa without regard to their nationality or religion. The Ministry considers all of them to be new Israeli citizens.

The entire process at the airport lasts around five minutes per immigrant and a plane load of 300 immigrants is completely processed within one and a half to two hours. During that time, new immigrants receive beverages and snacks. Nursing services for children are also available at the special terminal, as well as a synagogue. The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption representative gives them a short briefing on the next procedures.

After the briefing, each immigrant is called to a counter on an individual basis to check their oleh visa which they received from the Israeli Consulate in the former Soviet Union. With their oleh visa, each olim automatically receives an immigrant card which is stamped into his/her passport. Each olim also receives an immigrant booklet (blue booklet including a photo and personal information about the holder and his/her family) issued by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption which gives olim and their families all the rights of new immigrants coming to Israel under the Law of Return. Each immigrant booklet has a number which is different from the identity card number provided by the Ministry of the Interior.

It is important to understand that there are two official documents called Teudat Oleh. One is the entry stamp of the border control at the point of entry to the country, the second is the immigrant booklet. Originally, these two documents were processed separately. First, the entry stamp was provided by the border control official under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior in accordance to the Law of Entry. Second, the new olim went through another procedure with an official of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption in order to receive the immigrant booklet .

Today, only one official conducts these two procedures. In other words, the same official is a representative of the Ministry of the Interior when providing the entry stamp, and a representative of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption when providing the immigrant booklet.

Transportation facilities are available to all new olim who require them. New olim with friends or relatives as well immigrants without relatives can request transportation services from the government to go anywhere in the country.

Olim organizations in Israel are also allowed to participate and help during these procedures. They can be helpful in matters such as translation for immigrants speaking uncommon dialects.

At the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption terminal, each olim receives money in cash, and a cheque. The amount of money the new olim receive is proportional to the size of their family. They are told that within the next 48 hours they have to present themselves to a bank, open an account and deposit the cheque. New olim are also told that after they have opened their bank account they have to go to the nearest office of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and provide them with the number of the chequing account. From then on, each olim will receive a monthly payment from the absorption basket.

The absorption basket is based on an estimate of the average amount of money required to live in Israel on a monthly basis. That includes rent, food, education for the children, transportation to and from an Ulpan (a study centre for Hebrew), etc. In the first, fourth, seventh, and eleventh months the amount of money transferred to the bank account is more because in Israel the rent is usually paid three months in advance.

New olim receive several information brochures(1) written in Russian. The brochures cover a variety of subjects such as immigration benefits, the Ulpan, the possibility of living on a kibbutz, employment opportunities, army service, National Insurance, etc. The brochures also provide specific information for professional such as engineers, doctors, teachers, scientists, etc.

New olim who are under 35 years old and single may choose a program called Ulpanim-Kibbutzim. This program combines work and study. The new olim have to work half a day and study Hebrew half a day. They do not have to search for housing, or employment, or prepare meals. Olim who choose this program also benefit from free transportation to the kibbutz. Several kibbutz accept couples under 35 without children. Some kibbutz offer a program called "The First House in the Homeland" in which they rent out apartments. Participants can work on the kibbutz and receive a salary which helps them pay for the apartment. They can also learn Hebrew.

At the terminal the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption representatives provide a list of hotels with controlled prices with which the Ministry has agreements. New olim use the money they receive at the airport to pay for their rooms. During their stay at the hotel the new oleh have to search for an apartment. In general, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption does not provide lists of apartments for rent. However, general advice may be given.

Free permanent counselling on absorption problems and a wide variety of other subjects is available at local offices of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. The main topics of interest to new olim are housing, employment, and school enrolment for children. These counselling services are available at the same local Ministry of Immigrant Absorption offices where new olim register their bank account number. Olim organizations in Israel also provide counselling to new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. For new olim who have friends and family in Israel, the process is usually easier as their friends and family have already been through the process, and they can provide valuable advice.

It is very difficult to imagine that a person could go through the system and still claim to have a lack of information unless the olim do not read the brochures or listen to the information provided by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption representatives. However, I think it is an individual matter as to how much information a person can remember after going through that kind of process.

The work of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption can be summarized as directly and indirectly affecting the lives of new immigrants. The Ministry directly affects immigrants when receiving them at the airport, through the absorption basket, counselling, etc. The Ministry indirectly affects new olim's lives by either entering into partnership projects with other ministries or with private organizations, or by providing funding for specific projects for olim. These projects cover a wide range of subjects such as the Ulpanim. The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption is responsible for finding private organizations, municipalities, volunteer organizations, private schools, neighbourhood community centres, etc., willing to teach Hebrew to new olim, according to certain criteria such as classroom facilities, maintenance, and costs. Once an organization's application is approved, the Ministry provides the funding to pay for the facilities. Then, in coordination with the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, the Ministry of Education is responsible for hiring and supervising the teachers in the Ulpan educational program. Within the Ulpan program, there are cultural activities in order to facilitate communication and integration into Israeli society. Again, those activities are funded by the Ministry.

Another example is housing. For the first year in the country, there is a rental subsidy included in the absorption basket. After the first year, olim are able to receive a rental subsidy for their next five years in the country. This five year rental subsidy is provided through the budget of the Ministry of Housing. Olim receive this subsidy through their bank. At the bank, olim only have to show their apartment contract to receive the subsidy. If olim decide to buy a house within the five years, they are allowed to use the rental subsidy to pay for the mortgage on the house. Again, olim have only to provide a copy of their purchase contract to the bank.

Public housing facilities are also available for single-parents, the chronically ill, invalids, etc. These houses are built with funds provided by the Ministry of Housing which provides a certain number of units to the Ministry. With the help of a public committee composed of members of olim organizations and the Ministry, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption allocates these units to the weak segment of the olim population. The entire process is under public scrutiny.

NOTE

(1) These brochures are also available in the former Soviet Union at Israeli consular offices and the Jewish Agency offices.