Second Thoughts about Limiting Soviet Jewish Immigration to the US

By Asfour, John | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May/June 1991 | Go to article overview

Second Thoughts about Limiting Soviet Jewish Immigration to the US


Asfour, John, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


About 185,000 Soviets immigrants entered Israel in 1990, according to Jewish Agency figures. This was 15,000 below estimates made three months before the end of the year, but after the Gulf crisis had begun. And all of 1990 was before the Scuds.

Although Soviet immigration may rise again as fear of the war subsides, it would be entirely erroneous to suggest that the present Middle East is where the Soviet Jews really want to go. In fact, George Bush has the power to change the direction of flow by providing "choice" to Soviet Jews if he wishes to do so to further his own peace process.

Of 20,000 Soviet citizens per month continuing to register to emigrate to the US, regardless of the longer wait, 50 percent are Jewish. Figures on applications to go to third countries such as Canada, or to Europe, are unavailable, but also are believed to be high.

American Jewish agencies long involved in caring for Soviet refugees in this country are now changing directions. For a time they went along with Israeli desires to cap Soviet Jewish immigration into the US at 40,000 per year in order to stimulate the flow to Israel. Now the Jewish agencies worry that if the refugees must wait for years to come to the US, they will stay home rather than acquiesce in being diverted to Israel.

A Speeded-Up Program

As many as 300,000 Soviet citizens are now registered with the US refugee status program. They will have to wait an estimated four to six years before coming, unless a special program to speed the flow is created and funded. Major American Jewish organizations have surfaced for congressional approval of just such a specific proposal. Cost of the speeded-up immigration to the United States would be at least $600 million in the next fiscal year. And, unless Congress removes the overall cap on refugee visas, the added numbers would be deducted from Asian or other refugee quotas.

Such a proposal will be opposed by the Israeli government. Israelis see it simply as a move that would divert most Soviet Jewish emigrants to the United States, where more than 90 percent of them would prefer to go, given a choice.

Meanwhile, Israeli sources report that some 2,500 of the new immigrants from the Soviet Union already have left or are preparing to leave for other countries. Since they are not able to come to the US, they have become patrons of an Israeli "black market" in visas for Australia, Latin America, Europe, or Canada. Although it is a loss of only one percent of the new immigrants, the re-emigration from Israel nevertheless worries Israeli politicians. What if America opened its doors to re-emigrants? That a large number would flee the present situation in Israel is revealed by surveys and informal newspaper investigations.

In Germany, immigration of more Soviet Jews has just been blocked by Bonn. Bonn claims that it imposed the ban at the insistence of the Israeli government. Israeli diplomats in Bonn deny it. Obviously, Germany is extremely sensitive to the potential charge of denying entrance to Jewish refugees. …

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