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  • Writer's pictureAnat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov

Calculated Discussion: Permission To Leave Paradise


With a rare combination of basic mathematics and history, we will explain the *USSR’s line of thought regarding the exit of citizens from its borders, the diploma tax they gave to strengthen the exit restriction, and the Jackson-Vanik amendment that imposed restrictions on trade between the US and the USSR. Through a simple mathematical calculation, false claims and statements can be proven wrong. For example, the *Soviet government stated that they let Jews out without any problem: in 1968 they let 379 Jews to leave.

But how many Jews were in the USSR?

How many asked for an exit permit and received a refusal?

And how many were afraid to ask?


Start with the short introduction to Soviet Jewry Struggle HERE (if it's the student's first lesson).

After the introduction:

With Stalin’s death in 1953 and Khrushchev’s rise, the situation began to change.

Although Khrushchev pays little attention to the issue of emigration in general, and the issue of the emigration of Jews to Israel, in particular, he responded only to specific questions and in his answers expressed relative optimism: the USSR accepted the humanitarian principle of family reunification.

“Individuals raise the question of the departure of Jews. Some even say that anti-Semitism is supposed to exist in the USSR. There is no such thing in our country … and as for reuniting families who want to meet with their relatives or leave the USSR, the road is open to them and there is no problem in this. “

This unequivocal statement was published in the USSR newspapers the next day. In other words, it was indirectly a call for Jews who want to unite with their families in Israel to do so. In practice, the USSR was very anti-Semitic, the very word “Jew” was the worst curse. In the street, in the press, in literature and everywhere – Jews are unwanted on the one hand and on the other they are not allowed to leave.

Officially – it is claimed that everyone is allowed to leave, in practice – only a few manage to leave, and the rest were refused, fired, expelled from the university and continued to apply again and again.

They were also often arrested and imprisoned for false pretenses of anti-Soviet activity (learning Hebrew, celebrating Jewish holidays, learning / teaching about Israel, etc.).

By the end of 1970, there was very little awareness in the world that Jews in general wanted to leave the USSR. Now the Soviets began to liberate Jews in order to prove to the West that it was permissible to leave the USSR. But in 1971 guidelines were added that would continue to make it difficult for those seeking to leave:

A person that his profession was related, directly, to state secrets should leave his place of work 3-5 years before applying for an exit visa.

Professionals-experts needed for the USSR.

Anyone who has just graduated from university will have to work for a number of years and repay their debts to the state before applying.

The minister stressed that if many doctors want to leave a defined area, some because of a national interest, they will be refused. He explained, explicitly, the Soviet position that it was difficult for the USSR to give up good labor and as is well known, the Jews, Armenians and Germans were considered economically efficient factors, and the Jews were considered particularly good professionals.

According to the Soviet conception the citizens belonged to the state.

The Soviet message was that there would be a policy of refusal in order to prevent economic and professional harm to Soviet society. The USSR addressed a very sensitive issue that has arisen in the international system, related to the question of freedom of immigration, and that is the concept of “brain drain”, which was formulated mainly in Third World countries. Professional and many of them preferred to stay in the West and not contribute to their countries again.

In the internal and external Soviet press, the policy of leaving the Soviet Union was expressed. Journalist Vladimir Katin wrote in an article published in the New York Times (April 17, 1971):

“The few citizens, the Jewish people who want to leave the Soviet Union for Israel … are allowed to do so, but the number of those who want to leave their Soviet homeland is very small.”

In Izvestia (February 20, 1971) the policy was explained in a positive and promising way:

“Soviet citizens seeking to unite with their relatives in Israel apply for immigration to Israel. Soviet government institutions carefully consider each case and do not prevent the citizens of the Jewish people from emigrating from the Soviet Union to permanent residence in Israel.”


In August 1972, the Soviet Union decided to impose a “diploma tax” on those with academic degrees who had studied at the expense of the state and sought to emigrate from it. The average salary in the 70s for someone with a degree in engineering: 120 rubles a month Average living expenses 120 rubles per month The installation detailed the price list for degree holders seeking to leave the country: * Source

  • Graduates of the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences: 4,500 rubles

  • Graduates of the Institute of Agriculture and Forestry: 5,600 rubles

  • Graduates of language schools: 6,800 rubles

  • Graduates of technological institutes: 7,700 rubles

  • Graduates of medical schools: 8,300 rubles

  • Graduates of art and music institutes: 9,600 rubles

  • Graduates of major universities such as Moscow: 12,000 rubles

  • Graduates of universities in the periphery: 6,000 rubles

PhD holders were required to pay another 1,700 rubles per school year.


You can earn 140 Rubles a month, at best. Basic expenses, without having children, are about 100 Rubles a month. Q: How many months will it take you to save to pay a “diploma tax” of about 8000 rubles? Of course do not forget that you have not yet received the exit visa. The tax was so high that it prevented degree holders from leaving the country, and it was forbidden to accept funds from a foreign source.


The Jackson–Vanik amendment to the Trade Act of 1974 is a 1974 provision in United States federal law intended to affect U.S. trade relations with countries with non-market economies (originally, countries of the Communist bloc) that restrict freedom of emigration and other human rights.

The Amendment was, passed in the wake of the establishment of the USSR “diploma tax”‘ that imposed excessive emigration fees on those who had studied in the USSR and were seeking to depart. Justified as a repayment of the government’s education costs, it was designed to combat the “brain drain” of Soviet Jews leaving for Israel and the West. Since the end of the Cold War and the opening of trade between the U.S. and Russia, the legitimacy of continuing to adhere to the criteria of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment has been a topic of debate.

Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry

Yeshiva University Archive

At first the Jackson–Vanik amendment did little to help free Soviet Jewry. The number of exit visas declined after the passing of the amendment. However, in the late 1980s Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to comply with the protocols of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Lazin (2005) states that scholars differ on how effective the amendment was in helping Soviet Jews. Some argue that it helped bring the plight of Soviet Jews to the world’s attention, while others believe it hindered emigration and decreased America’s diplomatic bargaining power.

Since 1975 more than 500,000 refugees, large numbers of whom were Jews, evangelical Christians, and Catholics from the former Soviet Union, have been resettled in the United States. An estimated one million Soviet Jews have immigrated to Israel in that time.

Jackson–Vanik also led to great changes within the Soviet Union. Other ethnic groups subsequently demanded the right to emigrate, and the ruling Communist Party had to face the fact that there was widespread dissatisfaction with its governance.



Soviet Union: Officially known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)

Communism: Communism is an economic system in which everything belongs to everyone, that is, to the state. According to this approach all means of production in the country belong to the state and there is no private ownership of means of production. Simply put - no one owns things that produce value and money, like factories, fields and the like. Historically, a number of countries have adopted communism, or been forced upon them by the USSR, after conquering them in World War II. In all of them it has led to severe economic problems.

Zionism: ZIonism‎ (after Zion) is an ideology movement that espouses the re-establishment of and support for a Jewish state in the territory defined as the historic Land of Israel.

Refusenik: An unofficial term for Soviet Jews, who were denied permission to emigrate, primarily to Israel, by the authorities of the Soviet Union. The term refusenik is derived from the "refusal" handed down to a prospective emigrant from the Soviet authorities (OVIR).

OVIR: The Soviet government department to which one would apply for permission to emigrate and would respond with permission or refusal.


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