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Russian and Soviet Americans


RUSSIAN AND SOVIET AMERICANS. The entry of more than 243,000 émigrés from areas within the former Soviet Union between 1981 and 1993 represents the second large wave of Russian/Soviet immigration to the United States. Between 1881 and 1920, 3.2 million people, the majority of them Jewish, came to the United States from areas of what became the Soviet Union. Between these two eras, immigration of both Soviet Jews and non-Jews was at very low levels. Public displays of anti-Semitism and lack of opportunities for social and economic advancement increased pressure on the Soviet government to allow the emigration of Soviet Jews during the late 1970s. The U.S. government responded by admitting more than fifty thousand refugees from the Soviet Union, the majority of whom were Jews, between 1972 and 1980. Since 1980, 96 percent of immigrants to the United States from areas within the Soviet Union have entered as refugees. Since the late 1980s, Soviet refugee streams have included increasing numbers of non-Jews as well as Jews. During the 1990s, refugee arrivals from areas within the former Soviet Union ranged between forty thousand and sixty thousand per year. For 1993, Congress authorized the admission of 49,775 Soviet refugees.

The communities of Russian and Soviet émigrés within the United States reflect each of these waves of large-scale migration. Between 1970 and 1990, the size of the U.S. population that had been born in the Soviet Union declined from 463,500 to 334,000, reflecting the aging of immigrants who entered at the turn of the century. Nearly two-fifths of the 1990 U.S. population of persons born in tsarist Russia or the Soviet Union had entered in the previous ten years.

Since 1992 the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has reported immigration from specific areas in the former Soviet Union. Of the 58,600 immigrants admitted from the former U.S.S.R. in 1993, 31.3 percent were born in Ukraine, 20.6 percent in Russia, 10.7 percent in Armenia, and 8 percent in Belarus. More than half of recent Soviet immigrants are women and 30 percent are under the age of twenty, indicating the important role of the family in emigration.

As with other groups, Soviet émigrés are concentrated in specific geographic areas in the United States. In 1990, 48 percent of this population resided in the Northeast and 27 percent in western states; among Soviet immigrants arriving during the 1980s, 36 percent settled in California. The New York metropolitan region had the largest number of Soviet-and Russian-born people, and large communities of émigrés were formed in the Los

Angeles–Long Beach area. Settlement of Soviet Jewish immigrants was aided in large part by private Jewish organizations in metropolitan areas throughout the United States. Results of survey research on resettled Jewish populations, moreover, indicate that Soviet Jewish émigrésto the United States expressed strong religious identities similar to Soviet émigrés to Israel.

Descendants of earlier waves of Russian immigration have been characterized by high levels of education and occupation. In the 1990 census, half of the Russian-ancestry male population reported either professional specialties or executive, administrative, or managerial occupations; among Russian-ancestry women, 40 percent were in these occupations. These levels are significantly higher than those for other ancestry groups. Recent immigrants also have been distinctive in levels of education and occupation. Among Soviet immigrants admitted to the United States in 1993, one-third of those reporting occupations listed professional, executive, administrative, or managerial occupations. Occupations among recent Soviet Jewish immigrants are estimated to be proportionally even higher. Estimates for immigrants aided by the Hebrew Aid Society in 1989 suggest that two-thirds of Soviet Jewish immigrants were in professional, scientific, technical, and white-collar occupations prior to migrating. The population of people of Russian ancestry residing in the United States in 2000 was estimated at 2,980,776.


Jones, Maldwyn A. American Immigration. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Lieberson, Stanley, and Mary C. Waters. From Many Strands: Ethnic and Racial Groups in Contemporary America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1990.

Simon, Rita J., ed. New Lives: The Adjustment of Soviet Jewish Immigrants in the United States and Israel. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1985.

Ellen PercyKraly/a. g.

See alsoCold War ; Immigration Restriction ; Russia, Relations with .

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