Jewish Emigration from the Soviet Union Sets New Record in 1979; New Restrictions Simultaneously Abo
Menu JTA Search

Jewish Emigration from the Soviet Union Sets New Record in 1979; New Restrictions Simultaneously Abo

Download PDF for this date

Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union reached a record high in 1979 with 51,300 persons arriving in Vienna with Israeli entry visas, according to Charlotte Jacobson, chairwoman of the Soviet Jewry Research Bureau of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCS J). The second largest number of Jews — 34,733 — emigrated from the USSR in 1973. In 1978, over 29,000 Jews left the Soviet Union. Since 1971, when significant numbers of Jews were allowed to leave to join family, approximately 227,000 Jews have emigrated.

Of those who arrived in Vienna, 17, 200 proceeded to Israel; 34,025 (66 percent) preferred to settle in other countries, primarily in North America, Mrs. Jacobson reported. The longest annual figure reflected a continuation of the significant growth of monthly emigration numbers which began in September, 1978. From March of last year, this figure exceeded 4000, with the largest number, 4764, leaving in October.

Despite the overwhelming increase in emigration, Mrs. Jacobson noted, a slight decline in monthly figures during November and December (4174 and 4115. respectively) might indicate fore-shadowing of future obstacles in the way of emigration.


“Naturally we are happy that more Jews were allowed to leave the Soviet Union this year, and we regard this as a significant improvement in the granting of exit visas. I am particularly concerned, however, about the growing number of people being refused exit permits,” she said.

“We have obtained information,” she explained, “which indicates that Soviet authorities have adopted a new policy. Jews are being refused exit visas because the degree of kinship of Israeli relatives is not of the first degree, therefore disqualifying them for emigration. We must not lose sight of the fact that in spite of the high annual figure these new constraints indicate that the long-range situation could, in fact, get worse.”

(According to Soviet procedures, Jews are permitted to leave the country only when it can be shown that they will be reunited with family. The first requirement for an exit visa is a letter of invitation (visor) from an Israeli relative. During 1979, an average of 12,000 letters per month were sent to the USSR compared to 8900 in 1979.)


According to the NCSJ Research Bureau, Soviet intransigence is evident in the fact that from July to October as many as 900 families received visa refusals in Odessa. In Kharkov, activists reported approximately 300 “first time” refusals from July to September. In Kiev, on Nov. 20, the ovir (immigration office) announced that applications would be received only from those who are immediate family with relatives in Israel. In mid-December an additional 226 Kiev families were refused in one week.

The most recent indication of this trend took place last week. The NCSJ learned that Soviet authorities virtually ceased accepting applications in the Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Moldavian republics. All applicants were required to have invitations from first degree relatives. In Kiev (Ukraine) the trend took a turn for the worse when applicants were told that invitations would be accepted only from parents and children, the NCSJ reported.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund