REFUGEE PROCESSING IN MOSCOW
With the decision to phase out processing Soviet refugee applicants in Rome, on October 1, 1989, the administration began implementing new procedures for processing refugee applicants at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. These procedures included establishing the Washington Processing Center (WPC) to assist with many of the administrative f u n c t i o n s associated with refugee processing in Moscow. Soviets register for refugee consideration by submitting preliminary questionnaires, 2
obtained from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow or other sources, to the WPC via international mail or the Embassy. The WPC reviews the preliminary questionnaries for completeness, verfies affidavits of relationships, schedules INS interviews, notified individuals of their interview date, and prepares travel documents for refugees and parolees. INS began interviewing the first WPC-processed cases in January 1990. (See app. II.)
2 Preliminary questionnaires submitted to the WPC since October 1, 1989, are considered to be registrations for interview rather than applications for refugee status. Those Soviets who filed for refugee status prior to October 1, 1989, are considered to be applicants, as are Soviet in the Vienna-Rome pipeline.
WPC is scheduling about 4,000 individuals monthly for INS interview. A complete assessment of its capabilities, however, cannot be done until applicants processed by WPC begin to arrive in the United States. A WPC official estimated that, as of mid-March 1990, preliminary questionnaires representing about 362,000 Soviets had been received. WPC had 45,300 individuals in process as of that date. 3
About 80 percent of the individuals in process are category members. Because of the volume of preliminary questionnaires, 3 to 6 months may elapse between when a questionnaire is mailed to the WPC and when the WPC enters it into the automated system.
3 The number of preliminary questionnaries does not equal the number of potential Soviets seeking refugee consideration, because only individuals 21 years of age and older are required to submit preliminary questionnaries.
On a monthly basis, WPC tries to schedule equal numbers of fiscal year 1989 and fiscal year 1990 cases for INS interview. Because the demand for refugee consideration within these two groups far exceeds the fiscal year 1990 Soviet refugee admissions ceiling, WPC schedules Soviets for interview in accordance with INS refugee processing priority codes 4
and the date Soviets submitted their preliminary questionnaires. Those with relatives or other ties to the United States, P-1 through P-5 processing codes, are allocated 80 percent of the monthly interviews. Soviets without such ties to the United States are designated a P-6 processing code and are scheduled for 20 percent of the interviews. Within this percentage, however, interview preference is given to certain types of P-6 Soviets including Evangelical Christians, Ukrainians, and Jews with distant relatives in the United States or Jews experiencing hardships. Other P-6 Soviets, who have submitted preliminary questionnaires for refugee consideration in fiscal year 1990, may never be interviewed. (See app. III for the detailed definitions of the INS processing priority codes.)
4 Refugees are classified within six priorities according to their ties to the United States. This is done to ensure orderly management of refugee admissions and that the refugees of most concern to the United States have admission priority.
As of mid-March 1990, for fiscal year 1990 cases in progress at WPC about 70 percent of the individuals had the P-6 processing code. Figure 1.1 compares the processing priority codes for these individuals.
The INS at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow was meeting its fiacal year 1990 monthly interviewing goal as of mid-March 1990. In Moscow, we noted the following for fiscal year 1990:
Since the first preliminary questionnaires were distributed in Moscow in October 1989, demand for them continued, with about 451,000 questionnaires distributed by the Embassy and the WPC as of the end of February 1990. 5
5 Preliminary questionnaires are also distributed by voluntary agencies n the United States, but the questionnaires distributed by the agencies are included in this number.
WPC notifies Soviets through the international mail and, if possible, through relatives in the United States, of their INS interview date. About 91 percent of the Soviet applicants scheduled for interview in February met their interview appointment.
The interview process has been efficient because applicants are submitting more complete and thorough paperwork than in 1989. Embassy officials attribute this improvement to better preparation instructions.
When we were in Moscow in January 1990, each INS officer was adjudicating about 12 cases (45 applicants) daily. We observed interviews, ranging from 15 minutes to over one hour, and noted consistency in the type of questions INS officers asked.
According to State officials, Soviet citizens approved for refugee status were told to expect a 6-month wait before they could travel to the United States due to post-interview processing requirements. Consequently, Soviets approved after March will be admitted to the United States under the fiscal year 1991 refugee admissions ceiling. The 6-month wait is attributable primarily to the time needed to obtain voluntary agency sponsorship assurances and complete post-interview processing at WPC.
Between October 1, 1989 and February 28, 1990, INS officers in Moscow had interviewed 16,069 applicants, most of whom had applied during fiscal year 1989. A WPC official estimated that all fiscal year 1989 cases in the priority 1 through 5 groups will be interviewed by the end of July 1990 and the remaining 1989 cases by December 1990. State officials said that INS will continue interviewing refugee applicants in Moscow even after the fiscal year 1990 refugee admissions ceiling has been met. The officials said a backlog of approved refugees pending departure will develop during fiscal year 1990.
State Department officials believe that processing in Moscow has permitted the United States to better manage the flow of Soviet refugees into the United States. They said that processing in Moscow enables the United States to establish Soviet admission ceilings based on U.S. foreign policy and budgetary considerations, rather than on the number of people the Soviet Union allows to emigrate. Furthermore, they said that the new scheduling procedures permit the United States to give interviewing priority to Soviet citizens with close family or other ties to the United States. In the past, Soviets were interviewed in chronological order based on their application date, rather than by refugee processing priority codes.
State and INS officials said that the new processing procedures provide the opportunity to significantly increase the number of Soviets that can be processed at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The extent to which the Embassy will be able to increase its processng goals, we believe, depends on whether the State Department and INS are able to resolve several problems were observed.
State Department and INS officials agree that the Moscow Embassy refugee processing unit has been chronically understaffed. The staffing plan calls for 22 staff (9 INS officers, including a 3-person management team and 6 interviewing officers, and 13 support staff). The Embassy reported that nearly all non-INS refugee processing staff will depart by August 1990 and that there were no scheduled replacements for the INS staff that would be departing soon. As of mid-March 1990, only 4 INS interviewing officers were in Moscow and both INS and embassy officials were concerned abut whether current refugee processing levels could be sustained. Shortages of support staff have caused delays in preparing refugee travel packets, responding to applicant's inquiries, and processing parolees for travel. On March 23, 1990, the Embassy requested that the WPC reduce the interview schedule in July from 72 cases to 50 cases daily, becuase of the staffing shortage.
State and INS officials attribute Moscow staffing problems to several factors: (1) most INS refugee processing positions are temporay duty assignments requiring unaccompanied tours and hotel living; (2) Soviet entry visas procedures are cumbersome and prevent timely staff rotation; and (3) staff fluent in Russian are hard to find.
The Departments of State and Justice are considering an increase in the Embassy's permanent staff ceiling level to accommodate refugee processing staff; INS is recruiting Russian language staff to train as adjudicating officers; and State has contracted with a private U.S. firm to provide 16 support staff. State officials said that the staffing problem should be resolved by September 1990.
Facilities used for refugee processing, including interviewing, at the Embassy in Moscow are marginal. According to INS officials and our observations, two of the six interview rooms are unsatisfactory because they do not provide refugee applicants sufficient privacy during their INS interview. An Embassy official agreed that INS offices are unsatisfactory, but stated that so were most Embassy offices. They said that about a $4-million renovation of existing Embassy facilities was underway.
The renovated space will provide 10 INS interview rooms, 3 management offices, and space for administrative support staff and waiting rooms.
SOVIET EMIGRATION LAW STILL A PROBLEM
U.S. processing in Moscow is predicated on the assumption that Soviet citizens approved as refugees will be able to emigrate to the United States. According to Embassy and State Department officials, Soviet authorities have allowed their citizens to emigrate only at the invitation of close relatives abroad, or, in the case of Jews, to Israel. As of mid-January 1990, INS had approved about 2,100 Soviets (in the P-6 refugee processing priority) for refugee status who did not have close relatives or other ties to the United States. An Embassy official said that these refugees technically did not qualify for exit permission under existing Soviet emigration law. Although it is not known how many of these had applied for Soviet exit permission, an Embassy official said some denials had been reported. A State Department official said that a liberalized Soviet emigration law is expected to be enacted this year. However, the State official said that if the law is not enacted and obtaining exit permission proves to be a problem, refugee processing would be reassessed.
PHASING OUT ROME REFUGEE PROCESSING
INS expects to completely phase out the Vienna/Rome processing route by June 1990, when all the refugees in Rome depart for the United States. The number of Soviets entering Vienna for INS processing has declined from about 5,500 in December, 1989, to fewer than 40 in February, 1990. According to an INS official, INS is using both the U.S. Attorney General's guidance issued September 14, 1989, and the Lautenberg Amendment guidance to adjudicate refugee claims. Over 99 percent of the applicants interviewed in Rome during fiscal year 1990, as of February 28, 1990, had been approved for refugee status. INS processing statistics indicate that about 45,000 Soviet refugees will be processed in Rome during fiscal year 1990.
As of mid-March 1990, INS' fiscal year 1990 processing statistics for Soviet refugee applicants indicated that nearly 31,000 refugees and 40 parolees had departed for the United States, and that about 14,000 were approved for refugee status and were pending departure. At that time only 86 applicants were pending INS interviews, and an additional 120 Soviets were in Rome but had not yet submitted their refugee applications to INS.
Delays in receiving voluntary agency sponsorship assurances or medical reports have resulted in large numbers of approved Soviet refugees remaining several months in Rome. For example, in mid-March 1990, about 59 percent of the estimated 14,000 refugees pending departure were awaiting such documentation. A State official said that due to the tremendous surge in Soviet refugees since 1988, voluntary agencies' ability to supply timely sponsorship assurances has been strained. A State official said that since the number of Soviet refugees is decreasing due to the declining Rome refugee applicant population, the timeliness of sponsorship assurances there should improve. However, according to State and INS officials, this problem, in general, may continue in Moscow into the next few years if Soviet refugee admission ceilings remain at their current or higher levels.
COST COMPARISON OF REFUGEE PROCESSING IN MOSCOW AND ROME
Although a precise comparison of refugee processing costs between Moscow and Rome is difficult to make, our analysis of the refugee processing budgets for overseas expenditures for fiscal years 1989, 1990, and 1991, indicates that the program budget for Moscow processing in fiscal year 1991 could be less than one-half that of Rome for fiscal years 1989 and 1990. In fiscal year 1991, the first year of completely centralized Moscow processing, we estimate that the United States will spend about $1,000 per refugee admitted from Moscow for transportation to the point of resettlement in the United States, INS administrative expenses in Moscow and WPC costs. In contrast, our analysis shows that the United States may spend as much as $2,600 per refugee processed in Rome this fiscal year for care and maintenance, voluntary agency services, transportation to the point of resettlement in the United States, and INS administrative expenses in Rome. (See app. IV.)
Processing refugees in Rome is significantly more expensive, because, unlike in Moscow, the United States provides refugee applicants subsistence and administrative assistance while being processed. The United States has traditionally provided for the care and maintenance (housing and meals) of Soviet refugee applicants from their arrival in Vienna to their departure to the United States, or until INS denies their refugee claim. Additionally, the United States provides funding to voluntary agencies to assist Soviet refugee applicants through INS processing. Such assistance includes transportation from Vienna to Rome, medical examinations and help in preparing INS documentation. Care and maintenance expenses and voluntary agency services account for about 77 percent of the cost of processing refugees in Rome in fiscal year 1990.
Appendix II--Centralized Soviet Refugee Processing Procedures
The following procedures apply only to Soviets registering for refugee consideration after October 1, 1989.
REGISTERING FOR REFUGEE CONSIDERATION
Soviet seeking refugee status in fiscal year 1990 submit preliminary questionnaires to the WPC and are than considered refugee registrants. They obtain preliminary questionnnaires from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, American Consulate in Leningrad, the WPC, relative or voluntary organizations in the United States or any other source (e.g., a duplicated copy of the form produced in the Soviet Union). Completed questionnaries are mailed to the WPC via international mail, through contacts in the United States, or through the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the Soviet Union.
WPC processes preliminary questionnaires according to date received. WPC enters biographical data from each questionnaire into the Automated Refugee Tracking System (ARTS), assigns a case number, tentatively designates a refugee processing priority code, and determines whether an Affidavit of Relationship is required. Soviet citing relatives in the United States must have the relatives submit the affidavits, which are verified by INS before registrants' refugee processing tentative priority codes are finalized. For incomplete questionnaires, WPC notifies the Soviet citizen that additional information is needed before processing can continue.
Soviets with completed preliminary questionnaires and verified Affidavits of Relationships are eligible for INS interview consideration. ARTS generates eligible registrants for INS interview according to the following objectives:
(1) 50 percent of the interviews scheduled for a given month are for Soviets who applied for refugee status in fiscal year 1989, the remaining 50 percent are for fiscal year 1990 registrants.
(2) 80 percent of all interviews scheduled for a given month are for refugee applicants with ties to the United States, such as those with P-1 through P-5 processing priority codes.
(3) 20 percent of all interviews scheduled for a given month are for refugee applicants who are of national interest, such as those with P-6 processing priority code. These refugees have been defined to include Evangelicals, those claiming membership in the Ukrainian Catholic or Orthodox Church, and Jews with distant relatives in the United States.
Also, hardship cases are included in this group (including cases where the applicant missed the October 1, 1989, cutoff date for Rome processing and has suffered hardship, cases where the family unit was split, refugees of special concern whose admission is in the public interest, and all other refugees.)
WPC notifies the applicants of their interview dates via international mail and, if possible, also through relatives in the United States. (The refugee registrants become refugee applicants once their interviews are scheduled.) The INS refugee application forms, which the applicants must submit to INS on their interview date, are included in the interview notification package. The applicants are also encouraged to bring an Affidavit of Support to the INS interview in order to initiate expedited parole processing, if necessary.
WPC provides the monthly interview schedule and brief bio-data on each case to the Embassy in Moscow.
U.S. EMBASSY AND INS PROCESSING PROCEDURES
Refugee applicants arrive at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow with completed refugee documents. Embassy support staff review the documents for completeness and INS officers interview the applicants. At the end of the day, applicants are told whether they qualify for refugee or parole status and what additional information will be needed before they can depart for the United States.
Denied applicants' files are retained at the Embassy for two weeks to allow for Requests for Reconsideration. (Denied applicants are informed at the time of interview that the files will remain in Moscow for only 2 weeks. After this period, any motions to reconsider are sent to the WPC for review and adjudication, or if necessary, to schedule another interview in Moscow.
INS officials at the Embassy send the results of the interview and interview packages to WPC to initiate post interview processing.
WPC POST-INTERVIEW PROCESSING
WPC initiates security name checks on each applicant and sends biographical information to the Refugee Data Center in New York to initiate voluntary agency sponsorship assurances.
WPC prepares travel packets 1
for refugees and parolees and sends them to the Embassy in Moscow. Refugees purchase their own tickets to the United States and must show them when they pick up the travel packets. The Embassy in Moscow notifies WPC of refugee travel arrangements.
1 The travel packet includes: INS admission forms, medical forms for Public Health, Customs Declaration, assurnace documentation, and employment-related forms for the U.S. Department of Labor.
The travel packet and forms prepared at the United States' port of entry are returned to the WPC for holding until the refugees apply to adjust their refugee status or other INS service is warranted. At that time, INS sends the files to the local Refugee Data Center for permanent holding.
Appendix III--Refugee Processing Priorities Effective October 1, 1986
PRIORITY ONE (WORLDWIDE)
Compelling Concern/Interest: Exceptional cases of refugees (a) in immediate danger of loss of life and for whom there appears to be no alternative to resettlement in the United States or (b) of compelling concern to the United States, such as former or present prisoners and dissidents.
PRIORITY TWO (WORLDWIDE)
Former U.S. Government Employees: Refugees employed by the U.S. government for at least one year prior to the claim for refugee status, as well as individuals who were not official U.S. government employees but who for at least one year were so integrated into the U.S. government offices as to have had the effect and appearance of U.S. government employees.
PRIORITY THREE (WORLDWIDE)
Family Reunification: Refugees who are spouses, unmarried sons, unmarried daughters, or parents of persons in the United States. (The status of the anchor relative in the United States must be one of the following: U.S. Citizen, lawful permanent resident alien, refugee, [parolee] or asylee.)
PRIORITY FOUR (AFRICA, EASTERN EUROPEAN/SOVIET UNION, AND LATIN AMERICAN REFUGEES)
Other Ties to the United States: Refugees employed by U.S. foundations, voluntary agencies, or business firms for at least one year prior to the claim for refugee status and refugees trained in the United States or abroad under U.S. auspices.
PRIORITY FIVE (WORLDWIDE)
Additional Family Reunification: Refugees who are married sons or daughters, unmarried siblings, married siblings, grandparents, or grandchildren of persons in the United States; or more distantly related individuals who are part of the family group and dependent on the family for support.
PRIORITY SIX (WORLDWIDE)
Otherwise of National Interest: Other refugees in specified regional groups whose admission is in the national interest.
Appendix IV--Estimated Per Capita Costs for Soviet Refugee Processing
TABLE IV.1: VIENNA/ROME: FISCAL YEAR 1990 ESTIMATED PER CAPITA