U.S. Allowing 50,000 Soviet Jews to Immigrate in New Fiscal Year

The U.S. government will allow nearly twice as many Soviet Jews to immigrate here in the next year as arrived here during the past 12 months.

The reason is that far fewer Soviet Jews than expected came to the United States during the 1991 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

At the Bush administration’s request, Congress had provided funding for 40,000 Soviet Jews to come, but largely because of processing problems in the Soviet Union, only 26,680 actually arrived, according to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

For the 1992 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, the United States will allow 61,000 refugees to immigrate here from the Soviet Union, including about 50,000 Jews.

The quota, which President Bush officially set Oct. 10, also applies to those who lived in the Baltic republics prior to U.S. recognition of their independence on Sept. 2.

The figure was agreed to late last month in negotiations with the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. It includes the same quota of 50,000 Soviet refugees set at the beginning of the last fiscal year, plus 11,000 refugee slots never used in 1991.

In fact, 13,320 of the places set aside for Soviet Jews were never used in fiscal year 1991. Why only 11,000 of those places were added to the 1992 refugee ceiling is not yet clear.

PROCESSING PROBLEMS CITED

The 1991 shortfall was precipitated by a shift in U.S. refugee processing procedures, Richard Schifter, assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, explained Tuesday.

Prior to October 1989, the United States processed refugees from the Soviet Union in Rome. When it began processing them at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, the system was predicated on the Soviets issuing exit visas in a four- to six-month period.

But offices of the OVIR emigration bureau turned out to be more arbitrary in their issuance of exit visas, awarding them to some family members and not to others over a six- to nine-month span.

As a result, the United States altered its processing system in the Soviet Union by waiting for Soviets to receive their exit visas before doing the final U.S. processing.

Mark Talisman, director of the Washington office of the Council of Jewish Federations, said the bureaucratic problems “put big holes in our processing.”

But Schifter told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency prior to addressing the State of Israel Bonds Organization’s North American leadership conference here that Washington expects the revised system to be working well through all of the new fiscal year.

In September, 4,163 Soviet Jewish refugees entered the United States, the largest monthly total this year. If that pace is maintained through 1992, expectations of reaching the 50,000 mark will likely be realized.

Soviet Jewish immigration to Israel still dwarfs immigration to the United States, but the level of aliyah has dropped off considerably in recent months.

EMIGRATION BARRIERS REMAIN

A total of 9,877 Soviet Jews arrived in Israel during September, and the government now expects the year’s total to reach only 150,000 by the end of December, much lower than originally anticipated.

Schifter cited Israel’s economic problems as the main reason why more Soviet Jews are not leaving for Israel.

But he said the Soviets are still imposing two notable barriers to Jewish emigration: Visas are denied to those with alleged access to state secrets and those with economic obligations to relatives.

So-called “poor relative” cases number in the hundreds, while there remain around 40 “state secrecy” denials, Schifter said.

On the subject of anti-Semitism, Schifter praised Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev for recently speaking out publicly against it.

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