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‘degrading’ Process Discourages Many Soviet Jews from Applying for Visas

While many thousands of Soviet Jews have applied for visas to leave the country, many thousands more are probably discouraged by the “tedious and degrading bureaucratic machinery” that must be overcome by all who hope to depart. A description of what a Russian Jew must go through in order to obtain the prized “ovir”–visa–is contained in a report by Abraham S. Karlikow, director of the American Jewish Committee’s European Office, released by the AJCommittee here today. First of all, reported Karlikow, a Jew needs relatives abroad which is the only principle on which the Soviet authorities permit some emigration. A relative in Israel must obtain a “vyzov”–affidavit–which is procured and then certified by the Finnish Embassy in Tel Aviv which handles Soviet affairs in the absence of diplomatic relations between Israel and Moscow.

The relative in the USSR who receives the “vyzov” must take it to his local “ovir”–office of visas and permits–where he must fill out forms that ask for name, parents’ name, date of birth, family status, employment and similar questions. Once this is filled out “you must start making the rounds and get all supporting documentation,” Karlikow wrote. One such document is a “karukieristika.” “an evaluation from the place where you work” which must be signed by the director, by the local representative of the Communist Party and by the relevant trade union representative. “However, the very fact of beginning this process has already created difficulties. Local directors, of Party people, to whom one must apply grudgingly make themselves available. They, as well as others, may call you a ‘deserter’ or a ‘traitor,’ and be nasty in other ways. A number of Soviet Jews, merely on application. have immediately found themselves demoted, Others have been fired, sometimes in the form of an office or workshop meeting at which one is publicly excommunicated by colleagues,” Karlikow wrote. “Should you have children in school or university, you must get ‘Karakteristikas’ for them as well.

Difficulties immediately begin for them too: taunts from classmates, the cessation of normal advancement from one class to another or in being accepted in a higher school or allowed to graduate…Still other documentation is necessary. The local committee that supervises the house in which you live must furnish a slip. If you have a wife or children over 14 years of age, each of them must sign an agreement to go. Your parents, if they are alive, must also sign such papers, even though you are an adult.” Karlikow reported that these are some of the obstacles which must be overcome even before the applicant has the slightest intimation of whether he will be eventually permitted to leave. “Once your forms are filled out and documented, you go back to the local ovir. You pay (about $45) as a filing fee.., A waiting period ensues that may last up to six months. Then the ovir calls you in to give you a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. The ovir automatically says ‘no’ for whole categories of would-be emigrants, such as those in jobs considered sensitive, or of ideological and, of course, military importance,” the report said. An appeal against a negative answer is possible within three months but if the visa is still denied, the applicant must wait a full year before applying again. “Some emigrants, it is known applied more than a dozen times before they finally succeeded,” Karlikow reported.

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