U.S. Said to Be Exploring Idea of Direct Moscow-istael Flights

The U.S. State Department has asked the Intergovernmental Commission on Migration in Geneva to prepare a plan for direct flights of Soviet Jews from Moscow to Israel, the Jerusalem Post reported Thursday.

The purpose is to reduce the backlog of thousands of Soviet Jewish emigrants in Italy waiting for American visas, an unnamed source in New York told the paper.

At the same time, the Israeli consular delegation in Moscow may be allowed, in the next few months, to process visas for Jews leaving on direct flights from Moscow to Tel Aviv, the source said.

The Israeli delegation moved this week into the old Israeli Embassy building in Moscow, which had been vacant since the Soviet Union severed diplomatic ties with Israel in 1967.

But Israeli visas are still being issued through the Dutch Embassy in Moscow, which has represented Israeli interests since Moscow cut diplomatic relations.

Currently, the cast majority of Soviet Jews emigrating on Israeli visas fly from Moscow to Vienna, where they then opt tp settle in the United States, rather than Israel. They are then sent to Italy, where they then opt to settle in the United States, rather than Israel. They are then sent to Italy, where they apply to enter the United States as refugees.

That process used to be virtually automatic. But since last fall, there has been a huge backlog, partly because of a dramatic increase in Soviet Jewish emigration and also because the United States has become more selective about which emigres it grants refugee status.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service plans to address this problem by increasing the number of Russian-speaking officials at the American Consulate in Moscow to handle a larger volume of applications for U.S. visas.

The United States eventually hopes that Soviet Jews who want to go to Israel will be allowed to fly directly to Tel Aviv on Israeli visas. Those who want to settle in the United States would have to emigrate on American visas.

This would please Israeli officials, who have expressed annoyance that as many as 92 percent of Soviet Jews emigrating on Israeli visas have chosen to settle in other countries.

But critics of the idea say Soviet Jews who want to settle in the United States will be forced to go to Israel, since U.S. visas are harder to obtain.

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