Special Report Soviets’ New Written Emigration Code
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Special Report Soviets’ New Written Emigration Code

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The Soviet Union’s codification of emigration procedures this month was criticized as a “smokescreen” by some Soviet Jewry movement leaders contacted by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Others, however, saw some positive development in the new regulations.

The regulations, to take effect January 1, define acceptable conditions for emigration and temporary travel, differing significantly from the current procedure in two respects: having no provision for repatriation; and a new rule for quick application for an emergency visa to visit ailing relatives.

The regulations, which the Soviets claim will ease the process, is known officially as a Decree of the USSR Council of Ministers. The new codification contains an addendum of 11 provisions to the Statute on Entry into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Departure from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which was approved September 22, 1970 with 19 provisions or “points.”

It is stated that the new section is added in “consideration of application for entry” into the USSR and for departure from the USSR “for personal reasons.” It is the first time the Soviets officially have recorded their rules for application to emigrate and, in turn, grounds for rejections.


The decree states that visa applications will be considered based on “reunification with members of one’s family, meetings with close relatives, marriage, visiting seriously ailing relatives, resolving inheritance issues and other reasons.” Family members are defined as spouse, parent, child or sibling.

Decisions by emigration authorities are to be made within a month unless “further consideration” is necessary, when the waiting period could extend to six months. The decree states that denials will be explained, but no provisions were listed entitling an appeal of a rejection. Reapplication is allowed six months after denial.

The state may deny emigration for a number of reasons: an applicant’s familiarity with state secrets; if the basic rights and legal interests of other Soviet citizens are affected; unfulfilled obligations to the state or any organizations; legal grounds for criminal charges; conviction of a crime; if false information was given by the applicant; if the person abroad inviting the applicant had violated Soviet rules upon emigration; if during a prior trip abroad the applicant “committed actions violating the interests of the state” or customs or currency regulations; “in the interest of insuring the protection of social order, health or the morals of the population.”


The Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ) denounced the decree in a statement as “the most cruel form of fraud.” It pointed out that “by limiting emigration only to invitation from immediate family members living abroad, the 1966 United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is wiped out in a stroke,” the SSSJ charged. “This document, ratified by the USSR in 1973, clearly states that ‘everyone shall be free to leave the country, including his own’.”

Glenn Richter, SSSJ national coordinator, said that the Soviet ratification of the 1966 UN covenant was the “legal linchpin,” according to international law. “This new written list of rules does not contain provisions for repatriation,” he said.

The SSSJ statement also said that under the decree only the closest of kin could invite family members to emigrate, thereby “creating a vicious circle: because of this restriction, one cannot leave to be the invitor for other family members.” The SSSJ also charged that mailed invitations frequently were “taken by the KGB” and “never reached their destination.”


Alan Pesky, chairman of the Coalition to Free Soviet Jews, characterized the regulations as “an abundance of words that promise little in the way of substantive action that would mean a genuine easing of emigration policies.” He also took note of “the particularly glaring omission in the rules… the repatriation to one’s homeland.”

Pamela Cohen, president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, said the laws “further restrict all movement of people. It limits them, first, in that only families with immediate family members abroad can presume to apply… which means that the vast body of Soviet Jews who have been targeted by the government are locked in.”


Cohen spoke about the “security cases,” Jews who were told they could not leave on the basis of “regime considerations,” but who had been told eventually when they could leave. “The new codes do not give any clear-cut answer to Soviet Jews,” she said. “There’s a total absence of process in these laws.”

Cohen called the permission given by the Soviets to Olga Goldfarb to visit her ailing father, David Goldfarb, in New York, part of “a very sophisticated campaign of public relations.” She said Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev “understands it would be helpful to present a civilized view of himself to the West. What he is doing is permitting (only) well-known or well-publicized people to be given permission” to emigrate.

Cohen scored the “case-by-case” approach as “devastating,” saying that Soviet Jewry activists “have constant concerns because we understand that this approach is acting as a smokescreen to hide the enormous brutality and repressive policies of the Gorbachev regime. And so while we’re seeing reunification of families, we are seeing the mutilation and gross brutality against Jewish prisoners.”

She cited two specific cases: the beating of Hebrew teacher Aleksei Magarik, a Prisoner of Conscience, in which his lip was torn off; and the severe beating of 21-year-old Albert Burstein, a Leningrad activist and refusenik who suffers from osteomyelitis, an inflammatory bone disease. He was arrested Monday and sentenced to 15 days in jail for “resisting arrest.”


However, an almost totally different assessment of the new regulations was offered by Jerry Goodman, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. He said the regulations are “a recognition that a process for leaving must be created” and admits “that people want to leave, something which the Soviets have until now wished to deny, and now they cannot deny it.”

Furthermore, Goodman said, the recognition of “personal reasons” is something “the Soviets certainly didn’t, to my knowledge, admit before in law and in public.” He said this was a positive development in that “a Soviet citizen who wishes to leave is not a traitor, but a person who wants to leave,” and that, “having said that, this will encourage people who fit” the categories defined in the decree to leave.

Goodman cautioned, however, that the definition of who is eligible, once codified, “doesn’t leave much room for flexibility and hope for larger numbers of Jews who have been trying to leave for personal reasons but who don’t qualify by these procedures.” As an example, he cited persons who lost their kin during World War II and were therefore left without relatives who could invite them to other countries.


But Goodman said he was cautiously optimistic about the final provision of the decree, which he called “an escape clause,” a broadly worded passage that reads: “Questions of entry into the USSR and departure from the USSR for personal reasons may also be regulated by bilateral treaties between the USSR and other states.”

There is a potential here, Goodman said, in that the Soviets “are providing the possibility of negotiations.” If relations were established between the Soviet Union and Israel, for example, this clause might be a point for discussion, he observed. “A little bit of a door is opening,” Goodman said. “Of course, in the end, it’s always performance that counts.”

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