However, thousands of immigrants are being held up due to red tape. As of the beginning of the week, some 2,650 were waiting for an approval of their eligibility to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return. They are obliged to wait in line for months on end until Nativ - the immigration bureau in the Prime Minister's Office - approves their eligibility to become Israeli citizens.
When an immigrant from the former Soviet Union (FSU) wishes to come to Israel under the Law of Return, he must present documents verifying his affiliation to Judaism. Nativ's workers are authorized to conduct an inquiry to verify the validity of documents. After the consular clerk in Nativ's office, either in Israel or in another country, approves a candidate's eligibility, he receives an immigrant certificate with all the economic benefits involved and a blue identity card on arrival in Israel.
According to Nativ, as of last December, 900 of the 3,200 immigration candidates waiting in line were waiting to be called to Nativ's office in Israel. Sometimes potential immigrants prefer to arrive on a tourist's visa, before deciding to become new immigrants. In this case the eligibility check is done by Nativ in Israel.
A former worker in Nativ said "the bottleneck created by Nativ in its dealing with immigrants from the FSU forced people to wait as long as five months to be called to check their papers."
The source said "it's an intolerable situation for people wishing to immigrate to Israel. The families have to remain here for a long period without financial means. The potential immigrants are not allowed to work while they wait, and they have no health insurance."
Cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon, who is in charge of Nativ, told Haaretz he is is aware of the long line waiting for their documents check. "When I learned how long the line was, I determined to find financing to handle it quickly."
On November 9, Nativ leaders said in a debate within the PMO that they needed NIS 5 million for current operations. Due to the financial shortfall, part of the organization's activity has been suspended, they stated at the end of the debate.
It was decided to grant Nativ an additional NIS 5.26 million for 2005 for immediate activities. The budget is due to be approved in a few days, and Nativ said the Tel Aviv office has hired three more workers to deal with the backlog.
Nativ says that since 2003 the organization's budget had been slashed by 40 percent. In 2002 Nativ operated with 28 consular envoys in the FSU and eight workers in Israel, as well as four typists who uploaded the immigrants' details into the computer. In 2003-2005, however, only 20 envoys worked in the FSU and the number of workers in Israel was cut back.
Former Nativ head Ya'akov Kedmi says, "The long line does not derive from lack of budget but from Nativ's changing its policy on checking the potential immigrants."
"Nativ has forgotten that these are new immigrants, who should be encouraged to come to Israel," says Kedmi, explaining that they should not be treated harshly. He believes the "questionnaire the immigrants have to fill out is equivalent to the one the United States' immigration authorities gives out, which is known for the difficult conditions it sets for immigrants."
Nativ's consular clerk defends the comprehensive checkups. "In recent years we've added three pages to the investigation questionnaire, in which the applicant must detail all his first-degree relatives, and we are checking each and every one of them."
This is because "the reserve of Jews in the FSU is dwindling and today at least half the applicants are not eligible by first-degree relations or are only remotely affiliated to Judaism, like having a Jewish great-grandmother 80 years ago."
Jewish Agency chairman Ze'ev Bielsky said, "This is a grave problem that is holding up the arrival of hundreds of immigrants. He called the situation intolerable.
Bielsky asked the PMO to give Nativ the required resources to check the immigrants rapidly.
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