Russian Jews Ponder U.S. Welfare Reforms

By Lev Krichevsky
Volume 7, Number 1 (Fall 1996)
Issue theme: "'Anchor babies' - the citizen-child loophole"

Mikhail, a 62-year-old journalist in Moscow, has been planning to immigrate to America for several years. He was ready to settle in Maryland, where his elderly mother, as well as a younger brother and sister, have lived since the early 1980s. But now that President Clinton has signed welfare reform legislation that will affect new immigrants, Mikhail is reconsidering his move.

"I don't know what to do now," said Mikhail, who asked that his full name not be used. "I received many calls from my relatives and friends in America who are clearly worried that if I come today, I might have a rough time there," said Mikhail, whose immigration papers are all set.

The newly enacted and highly controversial welfare reform legislation has already sent alarm bells through Russian emigre communities in the United States.

Lev Krichevsky is a freelance writer. This article is excerpted from a longer report to Washington Jewish Week, September 12, 1996. The bill also has sparked concern in the organized American Jewish world, where officials worry that they will be faced with having to make up for the loss of benefits to Russian Jewish emigres.

Here, in Russia, the new legislation received little coverage in the news media, but would-be emigrants are hearing about the possible consequences from relatives in the United States. They are also turning to local sources to glean whatever information they can.

Despite the scare, the new welfare legislation is not likely to reduce the number of Jews emigrating from Russia to the U.S., according to Mikhail Chlenov, president of the Jewish Confederation of Russia. The reasons behind Russian Jewish emigration are such that not many people would change their mind because of the bill, he said.