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    Coronavirus grant for new immigrants approved by Immigration Ministry

    Thousands of families newly immigrated to Israel within the last year, ineligible for aid from the National Insurance, will be eligible for the grant.

    A family of olim who came to Israel during the coronavirus crisis on June 9 (photo credit: YONIT SCHILLER)

    A family of olim who came to Israel during the coronavirus crisis on June 9

    (photo credit: YONIT SCHILLER)

    Despite a spike in COVID-19 cases and a two week quarantine period at the start of their Israel adventure, 51 intrepid new immigrants from the US arrived in Israel Tuesday morning on a Nefesh B’Nefesh sponsored flight.

    The group flight brought new immigrants from across the US, including from Oregon to South Carolina, and Wisconsin to Texas, and are expected to be followed by as many as 2,000 more during the summer’s “aliyah season.”

    Tuesdays immigrants will spread out across the country, and will take up residence in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ra’anana, Bnei Brak, Karmiel, Katzrin, and Netivot, among other locations.

    Minister of Aliyah and Integration, MK Pnina Tamano-Shata said that the ministry was expecting an increase in immigration in the coming years, according to recent estimates by the Jewish Agency that 50,000 immigrants may make aliyah in 2021.

    “As such, we are preparing a comprehensive national program to encourage Aliyah and effectively integrate Olim as best as we can,” said Tamano-Shata.

    Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Nefesh B’Nefesh, noted that interest in aliyah in North America has increased significantly, which he attributed to the realization that it is possible to maintain close contact with family by digital means while being on a different continent, something that has come about due to the change in work habits caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “People have been able to stay close to family members without being in the same physical space, they have felt part of a wider community without stepping foot in a synagogue or community center, and many have been able to adapt to working remotely without compromising on productivity,” said Fass.

    “We are seeing how these changes, while fundamentally challenging, are allowing more and more people to consider Aliyah today.”

    Esti Brookhim, 28, from Houston, Texas, said it was “very surreal” to finally be in Israel after having thought about making aliyah, and talking about it, for so long.

    But she said she was not too bothered by the two week quarantine period, despite the fact that she will be by herself, and did not consider postponing her aliyah till a later date.

    In fact, she said one of the hardest aspects of aliyah during the COVID-19 pandemic was being unable to say goodbye in a normal fashion to friends in Houston because of social-distancing regulations.

    “For the most part I had to do it virtually, but I did have a picnic in the park where we sat two meters apart wearing masks, it was super weird,” said Brookhim.

    “It’s definitely a strange time to be moving to a new country, but the quarantine will give me time to process everything, to unpack, to do things on my own time, and then after that everything can get crazy,” she said.

    Just ahead of the arrival of the new immigrants on Tuesday, Tamano-Shata announced that she has approved a “coronavirus grant” for new immigrants.

    Thousands of families who immigrated to Israel within the last year, who are ineligible for unemployment assistance from the National Insurance Institute, will be eligible for the NIS 500 grant.

    “Unfortunately new immigrants are among the first population to be affected by the economic damage brought on by the coronavirus crisis,” Tamano-Shata said in a statement.

    Since taking up the position of Immigration and Absorption Minister, Tamano-Shata said she has worked to assist new immigrants who have been hard hit financially by the public health crisis and who were ineligible to receive financial aid available to other citizens during the pandemic.

    “In comparison with the rest of the general population, figures indicate higher unemployment rates among new immigrants, adding to a range of preexisting barriers and difficulties that new immigrants already face,” she said.

    In addition to the financial grant intended for new immigrants during the coronavirus pandemic, Tamano Shata has made other efforts to help out the overlooked demographic of the population.

    With regard to new immigrants Tamano-Shata recently turned to Public Security Minister Amir Ohana and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn requesting to make urgent adjustments to the law preventing visitors and lawyers from visiting prisons and detention centers during the coronavirus pandemic.

    The draft law allows for prisoners and detainees to be able to consult with lawyers by way of technological means, in cases where it is necessary to prevent the spread and exposure to the virus in prison facilities.

    However, according to Tamano-Shata, the law does not take into consideration immigrants who do not speak Hebrew.

    She stated that in order to preserve the basic rights of the immigrants, consultations should be fully translated into the language of the immigrant.

    The law is expected to be fully approved by the government in the near future.

    Immigration to Israel in 2020 is actually down in comparison to 2019, largely due to complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    From January to April this year, 6,368 new immigrants arrived in the country, compared to 9,899 over the same period last year, a decrease of some 36%.

    The decrease in April was particularly sharp, with 86% fewer immigrants than April 2019.

    According to the Jewish Agency, the decreases are due to the restrictions on international travel, and the closure of local authorities due to the global public health crisis.

    Of those who have arrived in 2020, 75% are from the former Soviet Union, 8% from Western Europe and 6% from North America.

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