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Soviet Legal Restrictions On Emigration

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The right to emigrate-the free movement of people into and out of their country of origin-is a right recognized by international human rights law. The Soviet Union has recognized its obligations under these laws and the Constitution of the USSR and the "fundamental principles" of its legislation require actions consistent with international treaties to which the USSR is a party. Nevertheless, the Soviet Union discourages and prevents emigration by manipulating its legal system. Only members of a few ethnic groups are allowed to emigrate. Over the years emigrants have been mainly Jews, Armenians, and ethnic Germans, as well as some Japanese and Koreans. Emigration is limited by the Soviet Union's policy of "reunification of families," which effectively eliminates the vast majority of Soviet citizens from emigrating. Even those groups allowed to emigrate in limited numbers face substantial impediments. Complicated procedures, great expense, economic and social ostracism, and oftentimes harassment or arrest await those who apply for an exit visa. Applications for emigration are handled in an arbitrary manner, at best, and in a punitive manner, at worst. The resulting system is one in which emigration is not a right, but the grant of an administrative indulgence. Emigration law, and the Soviet Union's policy toward it, is the focus of discussion herein. Analysis of emigration law and practice is necessary to counter the legal justifications advanced by the USSR to defend its restrictive policy of emigration. First, I will discuss the Soviet Union's obligation under international law to respect the right to emigrate; next, I will analyze Soviet emigration law and citizenship renunciation law. Third, I outline the application process; and last, I address the legal basis for refusing emigration.

Affiliations: 1: (Watertown, Mass., U.S.A.


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