How sanctions made new Russian olim leave Israel

“Most of the people returned to Russia for some time because the decision to come to Israel was urgent and not well-prepared.”

New olim from the former Soviet Union are seen arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport. (photo credit: COURTESY OF JAFI/ICEJ)
New olim from the former Soviet Union are seen arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF JAFI/ICEJ)

“I don't know any recent immigrants from Russia who have returned to Russia with no future plans to come back to Israel,” said Alex, a Russian Jew who made aliyah recently from Moscow. “Most of the people returned to Russia for some time because the decision to come to Israel was urgent and not well-prepared.”

The Jerusalem Post spoke to about a dozen new immigrants from Russia who have arrived in Israel in the past few months and left for different reasons. Most of them have already returned to the Jewish state and most of the others intend to return in the near future.

These olim (new immigrants) feel the need to speak up as a result of public discussion in Israel after the Post’s inquiry a month ago claiming that some 1,800 of the Russian Jews who immigrated to Israel since the war began have returned to Russia with their new Israeli passports.

Alex and the rest of the new immigrants who spoke to the Post have asked for their names not to be revealed because they are afraid of being threatened by the Russian regime.

Many families from Russia literally packed a few bags, bought the first airline tickets available and left after the war had begun. “Most of them didn't manage to rent out their real estate; they still have families and jobs in Russia,” Alex explained.

Banking

“Imagine that you have an account in a sanctioned Russian bank – you cannot make transfers from it to Israel. To do that, you have to fly back and open an account in another bank in Russia which is not under sanctions.”

Alex, a Russian Jew who made aliyah
 The logo of Sberbank in Moscow, Russia December 24, 2020. (credit: MAXIM SHEMETOV/REUTERS) The logo of Sberbank in Moscow, Russia December 24, 2020. (credit: MAXIM SHEMETOV/REUTERS)

“Most of my friends have many personal belongings and banking issues in Russia to solve," he lamented. "Imagine that you have an account in a sanctioned Russian bank – you cannot make transfers from it to Israel. To do that, you have to fly back and open an account in another bank in Russia which is not under sanctions.”

When asked about the difficulties he and his peers have experienced in Israel, Alex answered that “there are several difficulties.” The first difficulty he mentioned was issues regarding banks. “The most discouraging situation is the inability to transfer savings from Russian banks to Israel and the limitations which the Israeli banks impose on new immigrants. The banks put various obstacles and often demand documents you cannot provide without going back to Russia.”

And “the rules are totally unclear and vary from one bank to another.”

Credit card limits

ANOTHER OBSTACLE for new immigrants from Russia is the limits on credit cards. “You cannot even purchase an airplane ticket with the amount of money that the credit card is limited to,” Alex said, explaining that “the people from the Russian middle class would like to maintain their standard of living but often cannot do that even though they have sufficient funds in Russian accounts.”

In addition, the new Russian immigrants find it even more difficult to find jobs in Israel than immigrants from other countries. Most of those who made aliyah in this current wave are from the Russian middle class and, even though they are educated, their professions aren’t something that the Israeli market urgently needs. “Only those who worked in hi-tech, can find a job in Israel without substantial downgrade,” Alex said in despair. “For many, this is very discouraging.”

Housing

Housing is a third obstacle that Alex felt is causing many Russian olim to return to Russia for the time being. “Often it is very difficult to find long-term rent, especially if you have limitations on your bank accounts,” he said, specifying that many landlords demand three to six months' deposits and the guarantees from other people – something you cannot do if you have no family or close friends in Israel.

“We thank the government for monthly subsidies for rent, but the next step is how to spend it: If the bank controls were softened, that would solve the problem with rent as well.”

ANNA AND her husband were considering aliyah from Russia for many years, but only when the war broke out were they finally convinced that it was time. “On the 24th of February when Russia attacked Ukraine, we understood that there is no way that we can continue living there,” she told the Post. They decided to buy “expensive airplane tickets'' and flew to Israel, where they lived with their children who had made aliyah years ago.

The prices of flights from Russia to Israel have quadrupled in the past few months and only El Al flies between these two destinations. “Fortunately, Israel has changed the immigration process for Ukrainians and Russians, so we got all our papers in just a few days,” Anna said about her immigration process.

But when they started looking for an apartment, they reached an obstacle: They almost signed a rental deal for an apartment based on the funds they were supposed to be getting from the Israeli welfare system. “But then we were told by Bituach Leumi [Israel’s welfare system] that the process will take up to six months and that we aren’t eligible yet for the entire sum.”

Anna and her husband wanted to stay but couldn’t afford life in Israel. “We had no choice but to go back to Russia, sell our property, make efforts to transfer money to Israel and then come back to wait for about half a year when we’ll be eligible for welfare.”

“We had no choice but to go back to Russia, sell our property, make efforts to transfer money to Israel and then come back to wait for about half a year when we’ll be eligible for welfare.”

Anna

She is planning to return to Israel in a few months, at the end of the summer, but said that “there is a chance we will need more time in Russia. Anything can go wrong. But we cannot force our children to pay for our rent.”

Anna explains why she won’t interview using her real name. “In Russia, speaking to the press against the government will result in up to 15 years in prison,” she said. 

A message to Israel

At the end of our conversation, she asked to convey a message to Israeli readers: “We haven’t left Israel for good - we intend on being Israeli citizens, paying taxes and living there for good – but in 2022, you can’t just leave everything behind. We personally also feel that the bureaucracy is a huge disadvantage towards more and more Russian Jews moving to Israel," she said.

"We’ll be back to Israel, so don’t treat us as people who are just looking to get a foreign passport. This isn’t the case.”

ANASTASIA MADE aliyah from Moscow in the past few months and shared that she has many difficulties being absorbed into Israel. “I’m seriously considering returning to Moscow,” she said. “Despite the fact that I moved my business here and that my turnaround is over $30,000 per month coming from my clients around the globe, the bank in Tel Aviv gave me a limit of NIS 3,500 per month. Whenever I asked why, the manager suggested I ‘ask Putin.’

"Honestly, I am considering moving to Cyprus," she admitted. "Even my CPA said that if he only knew how many problems I would have, he would not take me as a client. I don’t want any business here; I am seriously considering moving out. This is a nightmare – and better to be unemployed than to earn any money.”

“This is a nightmare – and better to be unemployed than to earn any money.”

Anastasia

Alex Rif, CEO of One Million Lobby, has been in touch with many of the new immigrants from Russia. She responded to the testimonials given to the Post, saying that "There is a basic misunderstanding of the situation of Russian aliyah in 2022: People came to our country, but their money and assets were left behind. Almost 50% of the current wave of immigration came from Russia.

"The ongoing war in Ukraine, in addition to the harsh sanctions against Russia, puts the immigrants from there in an impossible state of uncertainty: Should their children begin school in Israel? What should they do with their pets? How do you quit your job and continue to make a living in Israel? And many other important questions," she said.

The reality requires those immigrants to start their lives in the State of Israel when they still have unresolved issues in Russia," Rif said. "Instead of understanding the complexities and supporting them, we are preoccupied with convincing ourselves that we have come out suckers – and here we have recently seen that some of the rights to which immigrants from Ukraine are entitled are denied to immigrants from Russia.”

Rif hinted towards the decision of Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata to only allow olim from Ukraine to live temporarily in state-funded hotels - something that Russian immigrants to Israel were entitled to since the war began and until the end of April.

The CEO added that the current difficult situation “creates built-in discrimination between immigrants from Russia and Ukraine; the immigrants are not to blame for what their leaders did.”

“We must do everything possible to absorb these immigrants in the best possible way," she said. "This should be in our Jewish, moral, economic and Israeli interests."