Hias Seeking to Help Thousands Lining Up at Embassy in Moscow

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society is seeking permission to open an office in Moscow, so it can assist thousands of Soviet Jews who hope to come to the United States as refugees.

All week long, thousands of Soviet Jews have been pouring into the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to pick up the necessary application forms, which are now only available there.

Prior to Oct. 1, Jews could leave the Soviet Union on Israeli visas and then apply to come to the United States once they reached Rome. For years, HIAS has been assisting those emigres through its office in Rome.

HIAS is now working through the U.S. government to get the Soviet Union to allow it to operate in Moscow, said Karl Zukerman, the organization’s executive vice president. He said the discussions are still in the early stages.

On Monday, the first day the U.S. Embassy in Moscow was open to hand out applications under the new process, the entire supply of more than 30,000 forms was given out.

But this actually represented only about 6,000 families, since people took five or six applications each, a State Department official said. The official said applicants were told that only one form is needed per family and that photocopies would be acceptable.

On Wednesday, another 55,000 applications were handed out by mid-afternoon, the official said. She said thousands more were still in line when the supply was exhausted.

MORE THAN 15,000 WAITING IN ROME

There was no panic among the would-be applicants, who were told more application forms would be available soon, the official said.

The first application forms are already being processed in the new center in Washington set up for this purpose, the official said. She estimated that the first interviews would be held in Moscow after Jan. 1.

The thousands who lined up in Moscow are competing for 50,000 slots the United States said it would hold open for Soviet refugees during the 1990 fiscal year, which began Sunday.

But also competing for those slots are Jews still in the Soviet Union who were issued Israeli visas before Oct. 1. They are still eligible to apply in Rome under the old system. Zukerman estimated this number at 30,000 to 40,000.

Meanwhile, the first priority for HIAS is to facilitate the immigration of some 15,000 to 17,000 Jews already in Rome who have applied for permission to enter the United States as refugees.

As of now, there are no visas for these people, since the United States has not begun issuing visas for the 1990 fiscal year. The last group of Jews allowed into the United States under the 1989 fiscal year quota was the 1,356 who flew into New York on Sept. 28.

The Bush administration has assured HIAS that most of those waiting in Rome will receive visas by Jan. 1, Zukerman said. He said he believes that most of the 5,000 Jews whose applications for refugee status were denied this past year will have the decisions reversed.

The Bush administration has promised that those in Rome will be allowed to immigrate, whether as refugees or through some other means.

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