Israel is set to stop requiring refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to deposit NIS 10,000 ($3,050) as a condition of entry to the country, according to reports on Monday evening.
Currently, Ukrainian refugees without first-degree relatives in Israel must provide the deposit, to be returned to them upon exiting.
The deposit is held as a guarantee that the Ukrainians will eventually leave Israel, which rarely grants refugee status to non-Jews, and instead allows them temporary entry as tourists.
The requirement has been criticized by Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk, as well as within the government.
Channel 12 news quoted sources close to Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked as saying that the measure was merely temporary. It was also reported that Shaked will bring the government a series of amendments regarding the issue, including a cap on how many non-Jewish Ukrainian refugees can enter Israel, as well as eligibility for work visas.
Haaretz said the requirement would be halted when Shaked puts the new framework in place. Neither report specified when this might happen.
According to Hebrew media reports Friday, Shaked and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid were advancing a new policy to grant year-long resident status and work permits to Ukrainians escaping the war.
However, the two were reportedly at odds over how many refugees to allow into Israel, with Army Radio saying Lapid was pushing for a total of 5,000 to be granted entry, with amost 3,000 having entered to date. It was not clear what number Shaked was proposing.
Following Monday’s Channel 12 report, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, of the center-left Labor party, tweeted that she welcomed the decision to scrap the deposit requirement, adding that Israel “cannot afford to impose hardships on those who are in need.”
Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, who flew to Poland on Monday, has called for canceling the deposit requirement, calling it “illogical and inhumane.”
Earlier Monday, Shaked said Israel would limit the number of refugees who cannot automatically immigrate to the country.
“We will approve some sort of humanitarian cap on people who are not eligible under the Law of Return,” Shaked told Kan public radio. “In the coming days, I will formulate an organized policy, because we have to get this situation in order.”
The Population and Immigration Authority said Monday morning that since the February 24 outbreak of war, 2,792 Ukrainian nationals have arrived in Israel; 129 of them were denied entry for unspecified reasons.
Throughout the month of February, 3,226 Ukrainians landed in Israel; 248 of them were denied entry and 2,134 exited, the authority said.
Under the Law of Return, anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent is eligible to become an Israeli citizen.
Shaked said that only around 10 percent of those who have entered Israel since the war began are eligible for citizenship. She said that Israel’s primary goal is to absorb fleeing Jews and others who can become citizens, as opposed to all refugees.
“Israel has a huge challenge to absorb those who are eligible under the Law of Return,” she said. “We expect tens of thousands; we could reach hundreds of thousands if a large number come from Russia and other former Soviet nations. That’s our main mission.”
While Ukraine boasts a large Jewish community, it is unclear if such a figure will materialize, and the Jewish Agency has indicated that there does not appear to be a wave of Russian immigration in the works.
While Israel is focused on preparing for a wave of new immigrants, “of course as a Western nation we will also take in refugees generally,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Walla news site reported on Monday that a government body erroneously told the prime minister that there had been a huge jump in Russian Jews’ requests to make aliyah.
A representative for Nativ, the liaison organization to Jews in the former Soviet Union, told ministers there had been 14,000 such requests since the start of the invasion of Ukraine on February 24 — when the true number was actually 1,400.
The report said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was amazed by the supposed number and told Nativ to immediately call up as many employees as possible to handle the influx (all of 2021 saw some 7,000 immigrants from Russia).
But Shaked was doubtful of the figure and asked to double-check. Nativ later apologized, saying the number was in fact 1,400 — still a relatively high number for such a short period, but far below the initial figure.
The UN estimates that more than 1.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia began its invasion last month. The vast majority have exited via Poland, though many have continued onward since arriving there.