HIAS and other Jewish organizations mount an advocacy effort in Congress to increase funding for the expected flood of Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union, and to continue granting Soviet Jewish immigrants refugee status, allowing them to enter the U.S. outside the normal immigration quota on the grounds of persecution in their native country.


During his first trip to the Soviet Union, U.S. President Ronald Reagan meets with dissidents and refuseniks and calls on Mikhail Gorbachev to further ease restrictions on religious freedom and emigration. 


The U.S. begins denying the refugee applications of some Soviet Jews, questioning whether they can demonstrate the “well-founded fear of persecution” required to establish refugee status.


  • Jewish emigrants from the USSR: 18,919
  • Soviet Jewish immigrants to US: 10,576
  • Soviet Jewish immigrants to Israel: 2,173

Looking Back

The hopes that glasnost will result in the lifting of restrictions on Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union are realized when Jews are permitted to leave at the rate of 1,000 a week. But a shortfall in U.S. government funds and a change in U.S. policy regarding the granting of refugee visas to Soviet Jews threaten to halt or slow the migration.

In June, the U.S. embassy in Moscow announces that it no longer has sufficient funds to continue processing refugee visas. This strands some 3,000 Soviets (including 150 Jews) who have received permission to emigrate but are unable to obtain American visas. By early 1989, this backlog grows to 19,000 applicants, about 2,000 of them Jews. In a letter to Secretary of State George Shultz, HIAS states that the decision to suspend the issuance of U.S. visas in Moscow has “resulted in the ironic circumstance in which the Soviet Union appears to the world to be willing to grant freedom to emigrate to its people while the United States has closed its doors.”