Russian Immigration to the U.S post Soviet Union

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Russian Immigration to the U.S
Post Soviet Union

Research as we have seen it tends to classify post-Soviet immigrants as being primarily Jewish immigrants. Most of these Jewish immigrants came to the United States in the late 1960’s. However, this paper will not focus on that aspect of Russian immigration. Instead, I will demonstrate that Russian speaking immigrants who arrived in the United States after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 were the most diverse group, in terms of religion and circumstances for immigration what was previously understood. The United States has a history of taking in immigrants, though the circumstances for their immigrations have changed significantly over time. The history of Russian immigration is often described as a series of exact movements of people from the East to the West, but there is no consensus over which time is more valuable than another. In the 1880’s, a large number of Russian Jews arrived in the United States, which lasted well into the 1920’s. After WWII, and restrictive immigration policy in the United States, Russian immigration continued, though on a much smaller scale.

Dennis Shasha and Marina Shron detail in the introduction to their book a series of three periods of Russian immigration to the United States since WWI, as originally coined by Steven Gold. The first wave was the flight of White Army after the 1917 revolution. The second wave happened after WWII when several hundred thousand were fleeing Stalin’s brutal Soviet regime. Gold considers the post-Soviet Russian immigrants as a continuation of the third wave which started in the late 1970s. This was due in part by the loosening of Soviet immigration restrictions to the United States’ acceptance of Soviet Jews, Ukrainian Catholics, and Evangelical Christians as refugees.

Looking at Russian immigration without regard to merit, Anatoli Vishnevsky and Zhanna Zayonchkovskaya suggests an alternating pattern of four waves of immigration since World War I. The first was the evacuation of about 5 million people between 1917 and 1938, who fled the Russian Revolution and the tightening grip of Soviet authority. The second wave was the immigration of about 10 million from the Soviet Union during and surrounding World War II.

The third wave in their model is from the period 1948 to 1990. They perceive this group of emigrants and the first voluntary, but smaller, group of departures. An estimated 1.1 million people left the Soviet Union during these years in a slow stream. Only in 1988 do the authors acknowledge the emergence of a shift in the pattern, as the right to immigrate was offered nearly unrestricted to Jews and those with special invitations from the West. The largest source republics of third wave immigrants from the Soviet Union were Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.

Vishnevsky and Zayonchkovskaya published their work in 1994, having predicted the pattern of immigration for the then emerging fourth wave. Their predictions were that the causes of migration from the former Soviet republics would be economic and political, rather than the ethnic and religious that it had been in the past waves. During the writing of their book, groups of fourth-wave immigrants were already fleeing the effects of Stalinist and communist party ethic policies in the Soviet Union. These immigrants were identified as returning to their ethnic homelands within other states of the former USSR and undoing forced displacements of the 20th century. Vishnevsky and Zayonchkovskaya also cited the possibility of refugees leaving to escape dangerous political crisis.

As those two different analyses show, scholars often have conflicting explanations for the waves of Russian immigration to the United States. There is still debate as to the time of the third wave, which was the immigration of a large number of Soviet Jews. Some scholars see the progression I explained earlier, with the Soviet refugees of the 70s...
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