The budget crunch that has caused a backlog in the processing of Soviet citizens seeking to immigrate to the United States has the potential to affect Soviet Jews, although it does not as yet, the State Department said last week.
Department spokesman Charles Redman said the problem exists at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, where the Immigration and Naturalization Service does not have enough personnel to handle the flood of applicants that have been streaming in since last summer. Only about 5 percent of these applicants are Jews. The bulk of the applicants are Armenians, Redman said.
Most Jewish emigrants leave the Soviet Union on Israeli visas and go to Vienna. From there the majority go on to Rome, where they apply to enter the United States on refugee status.
The problem in Moscow is a result of the Reagan administration’s success in pressing the Soviet Union to increase emigration, Redman said.
“We have seen during the past year a positive Soviet response to our call for increasing numbers being permitted to emigrate,” he said.
“This welcome development has meant that our embassy in Moscow processed six times as many emigrants from the Soviet Union in fiscal ’88 as it had the year before.”
NOT YET A PROBLEM IN ROME
The State Department official explained that for the 1989 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, the INS has been given funds for enough personnel to interview 4,000 applicants in Moscow and 12,500 in Rome.
The problem began last July 1, when the embassy in Moscow stopped issuing visas because of the budgetary constraints, stranding about 3,000 people.
Redman said that about half of these have since been granted visas through private means, and the remaining 1,500 have been processed under the 1989 budget.
This has exhausted the number that can be interviewed during the first quarter of the fiscal year. Redman said processing will resume in January for the applicants who have been streaming into the embassy at the rate of 2,000 a month since July.
He urged persons seeking visas to the United States in Moscow not to sell their homes or other possessions until they have a visa.
The problem does not exist yet in Rome, where 2,400 persons arrived from the Soviet Union in October, Redman said.
He said if this rate continues it “may result in some delays in Rome as well.”
The State Department official ruled out a suggestion that any potential problem in Rome could be solved if the United States would agree to Israel’s demands that Jews with Israeli visas be forced to go to Israel by way of Romania.
He reiterated that the United States supports “freedom of choice” for the emigrants.
Redman also stressed that despite the financial problems associated with processing immigrants, the United States is continuing its demand that the Soviet Union allow all those who want to emigrate to do so.