WASHINGTON (Jul. 18)
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow will resume processing visas for Jews and other refugees leaving the USSR, but is requiring most of them to obtain private funding if they wish to leave before Oct. 1.
State Department figures show that 3,400 Soviet citizens had begun applying for permission to immigrate to the United States when the embassy stopped issuing visas July 8. The private funding requirement will be waived for the 400 refugees in the most difficult circumstances.
The embassy had announced July 8 that it no longer had sufficient funds to continue the refugee program, mainly because of a surge of visa requests from Armenians.
Under a budget agreement with Congress, the State Department could not seek any new funds until Oct. 1, the start of the 1989 fiscal year.
But last week, members of Congress wrote President Reagan protesting the embassy’s deci- sion to stop issuing visas. They argued that the move “sends a terrible signal to those seeking freedom all over the world and could give the Soviets the opportunity to claim that is America, and not the Soviet Union, that is impeding emigration.”
Jewish organizations have also protested the embassy’s decision.
To defuse the crisis, the State Department agreed late last week to transfer $500,000 to Moscow from its $119.5 million worldwide refugee budget for fiscal year 1988.
AID FOR ‘EMERGENCY’ SITUATIONS
The embassy plans immediate processing for 400 Soviets who are in “emergency” situations: those who have received permission to leave, sold their homes and left their jobs.
The embassy said it would seek the “timely departure” of an estimated 3,000 others seeking to leave on U.S. visas, but it would not specify a timetable.
A State Department spokesperson explained that the Immigration and Naturalization Service will soon announce a system for informing private citizens and voluntary agencies about how to expedite the departures through private funding.
Ben Zion Leuchter, president of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, said he welcomed the embassy’s decision to take care of refugees in emergency situations, but he said the issuing of U.S. visas “should be restored for all.”
Leuchter called the decision to seek private money a “bad precedent,” saying that refugees are a “good investment” for the United States, since after three years here, their tax payments “far exceed” the amount of money expended to bring them here.
Phil Saperia, HIAS assistant executive vice president, pointed out that few Soviet Jewish emigrants rely on U.S. visas, since most leave on Israeli visas. He said that between 150 and 180 are currently seeking letters of invitation from the United States.
About 150 Jews have left the Soviet Union on U.S. visas so far this year. Last year, 84 Soviet Jews left the Soviet Union on U.S. visas, while 28 left in 1986, Saperia said. HIAS assists virtually all Soviet Jews entering this country.