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Immigration Law May Benefit Jews, but Doesn’t Affect Soviet Refugees

Jewish organizations have welcomed the landmark immigration bill adopted Saturday by the departing Congress, despite disappointment that the number of people allowed into the United States under family reunification provisions is not larger.

The number of close relatives of permanent residents allowed to come to the United States has been increased from 436,000 to 465,000 per year. After Oct. 1, 1993, this would increase to 480,000.

President Bush, who is opposed to a larger increase, has promised to sign the legislation.

Judith Golub, the American Jewish Committee’s legislative director, who worked actively in pushing the family reunification issue, called the bill “pro-family” despite its shortcomings.

Families must remain the core of the immigration policy,” she said. “Immigrants and immigration are a plus for the United States and should be welcome.”

This view was also underscored by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. “HIAS has always supported a generous immigration policy, so although it is not the most perfect bill, we are delighted that it has passed,” said Phillip Saperia, assistant executive vice president of HIAS.

The bill would allow 700,000 people to enter the United States a year until 1995, when the number would drop to 675,000. The current ceiling is 500,000. The major change in the bill was the increase in the number of visas granted to skilled workers and their families, which will go up to 140,000 from the present 54,000.

Saperia said this category could be particularly helpful to Jews seeking permanent immigration to the United States from almost any nation.

BENEFITS FOR RELIGIOUS WORKERS

The provision may also be taken advantage of by Israelis seeking to immigrate to the United States, including the tens of thousands of Israelis believed to be living here illegally, Saperia said.

But the bill does not immediately impact Jews from the Soviet Union and Iran. Jews from those countries are considered in danger and therefore qualify to come to the United States as refugees, a category separate from that covered by the immigration legislation.

However, Saperia said that if refugee status were ever eliminated, the new law would help Jews from those two countries.

The number of Soviet Jews allowed to enter the United States as refugees is 40,000 for the 1991 fiscal year, which began Oct.1. That is a fraction of the hundreds of thousands who have applied in Moscow for permission to come here.

As a result, some Soviet Jews may try to come to the United States as regular immigrants. But if they are granted permission, they will not receive the U.S. financial aid for transportation and initial resettlement that refugees enjoy.

The new law also has benefits for religious workers, according to Abba Cohen, Washington representative of Agudath Israel of America.

Cohen said that members of the clergy, including rabbis, can enter the United States regardless of the immigration quota. He said Agudath Israel helped defeat an attempt to put a cap on the number of clergy members allowed to so.

In fact, the definition of religious workers was expanded to include such people as cantors, shochets and mohels. In addition, Agudath Israel helped persuade Congress to add a new visa category that would allow people to come to this country for training as religious workers.

In the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, there are Jews who want “to rejuvenate religious life but don’t know how to do it,” Cohen said.

The new law will allow Jews from these nations to come to the United States for religious training and work at the same time, which they would not legally be able to do on student visas.

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