Foreign Ministry withdraws visa restrictions [pg. 4]

The Foreign Ministry has reversed plans to issue limited, short-term visas to young Russian Jews taking part in the Taglit-birthright israel program this summer, in the wake of an inquiry from The Jerusalem Post. "I spoke with the embassy in Moscow, and they have assured me that they will issue each Taglit participant from the former Soviet Union a regular, individual three-month visa," Yigal Tsarfati, head of the Foreign Ministry's consular section in Jerusalem, told the Post. "The visa they receive will be no different from that given to any other young person on Taglit," he said. Recently, the Post learned that as a result of unspecified "bureaucratic problems," the embassy in Moscow had decided to issue group visas valid for just 10 days to Russian Jews participating in the program, which brings Diaspora youth to Israel for a free trip aimed at strengthening their Jewish identity. The planned move appears to have been designed to reduce the paperwork required to process individual visas. In the past, Russian participants in birthright had been granted individual three-month visas, and the issuance fee were waived. The proposed change, according to a Jewish Agency source, threatened to undermine the program's effectiveness in persuading young Russian Jews to explore living in the Jewish state. "It is absurd," the source said. "Young Russian Jews coming on birthright often wish to stay beyond the 10-day program, whether just to see relatives or to explore opportunities for studying in Israel or making aliya. "But if they are issued a short-term group visa," the source said, "they will be denied the chance to do so. It just doesn't make any sense." After the Post asked the Foreign Ministry about the new restrictions, the decision was reversed, and Russian Jews taking part in Taglit will now be able to extend their stay beyond the 10-day limit. According to a Taglit-birthright israel official, 700 to 800 young Jews from the former Soviet Union are expected to visit here this summer as part of the program. More than 12,000 Russian Jews between the ages of 18 and 25 have visited Israel under Taglit-birthright's auspices. At least 5,000 of them decided to make aliya.