Fewer Soviet Jews Arrived in U.S. Last Year, but Numbers Will Rise

Although some 6,000 fewer Soviet Jews entered the United States as refugees in 1990 than the year before, this temporary slowdown is believed to be over.

A steady flow of 4,000 Soviet Jews a month is expected for 1991, said Karl Zukerman, executive vice president of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society.

Zukerman said the number of Soviet Jewish refuges arriving in the United States in 1990 totaled 32,000, compared with 36,738 in 1989.

But this total is somewhat misleading, Zukerman said, since the figure is for the calendar year, while the 50,000 slots Washington has set aside for refugees from the Soviet Union are based on the fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Of this number, 40,000 slots are specifically for Soviet Jews.

The number of Soviet Jewish refugees arriving in the United States at the end of the 1990 fiscal year on Sept. 30 was 39,019.

The lower 1990 calendar year figure was due partly to a change of procedure instituted by the U.S. government in October 1989 in which all requests for refugee status would be processed in Moscow, eliminating the former sites in Rome and Vienna.

For years, Soviet Jews with visas for Israel stopped off in Vienna and Rome and applied there for admission to the United States as refugees.

After the Bush administration decided against admitting all Soviet Jews automatically as refugees, it also decided to process entry requests only in Moscow.

But as the new policy went into effect Oct. 1, 1989, there was still a large backlog of Jews in Rome and Vienna. These people were given priority in admission as refugees for the 1990 fiscal year.

PREFERENCE TO CHRISTIANS

The pipeline in Rome and Vienna was effectively emptied last June, Zukerman said. But even after the two European offices were shut down, very few Jews went to the United States directly from Moscow until the current fiscal year began last Oct. 1.

The numbers then began to pick up as the new processing machinery went into place, although “glitches” are still being worked out, Zukerman said.

Moreover, at the start of the fiscal year, priority in processing applications was given to Pentecostal and Evangelical Christians, who unlike Jews had waited in Moscow rather than going to Europe first.

“These were people caught in October 1989 with the switch to Moscow,” Zukerman said. He said they had given up their homes and jobs, and it was considered they should be given priority on a humanitarian basis.

Zukerman indicated there would be no request from the Jewish community to increase the number of Soviet refugees into the United States.

Before the United States stopped granting automatic refugee status to Soviet Jewish emigrants, the overwhelming majority came to the United States despite leaving on Israeli visas. Since then, the flow has been largely to Israel, with more than 180,000 making aliyah in 1990.

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