Moving Beyond Absorption In Brighton Beach

Moving Beyond Absorption In Brighton Beach

The city’s Planning Department revealed last week that more and more former Soviet Jews are immigrating to the city not as refugees but for family reunification and on lottery visas, a fact that has been observed on the streets of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.

As a result of these changes, Kenneth Gabel, executive director of the Shorefront Y in Brighton Beach, said his board has established a master policy committee to study demographic, service and market trends in south Brooklyn.

"This latest [city] study is very timely because as fewer immigrants are arriving as refugees, they may need community services that donít relate to the initial absorption stage," he said.

Gabel said the Y, a UJA-Federation beneficiary, serves more than 10,000 people, 60-70 percent of whom are from the former Soviet Union. Gabel pointed out that the Brighton Beach community has changed dramatically since the Y was built in 1962 and that a lot of what the Y has done has been reactive.

"Some of it has been very good," he said. "We have done heroic work in resettling Jews from the former Soviet Union, but we have not done so well in dealing with market trends. We have not always been there after the absorption phase was over. … We want to respond to the community’s desires and expectations, and these demographic trends and figures will help us understand the facts."

Among the absorption services provided to immigrants are the teaching of English and providing them with counseling about government entitlements. As fewer immigrants arrive as refugees needing such services, the Y will consider expanding services to include job training, day care, health care and culture programs.

Planning consultants are expected to use the statistics in developing a strategic study for the Y that is slated to begin this week and be completed by next spring.

Excerpts of the study were revealed at a briefing at UJA-Federation headquarters in Manhattan by Joseph Salvo, director of the city Planning Department’s population division. It was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty and UJA-Federation.

In his slide presentation, Salvo said the latest figures indicate that 85 percent of immigrants from the former Soviet Union arrived here as refugees, "down from 92 percent" during 1990-94.

And they are settling "not only in Graves End and Brighton Beach, but Bensonhurst and a whole region of southern Brooklyn," he said. "Groups go first to one neighborhood and then move to others."

Salvo said that as of 1997, there were an estimated 175,000 city residents who were born in the former Soviet Union. But he stressed: "No one knows right now what is happening to immigration from the former Soviet Union because our other data only goes up to 1996. All of the data we have seen since then is based on refugee arrivals. So you should be skeptical and look at the data carefully before making conclusions."

Salvo pointed out that 17 percent of all immigrants to the United States since World War II settled in the city. The annual number of immigrants coming to the five boroughs has risen steadily each year, from 32,000 right after the war to 116,000 in 1996, a 3 percent increase from the 113,000 who arrived from 1990-94.

The largest number of immigrants (about one-third) have been from the Caribbean, but that number has dropped recently to 29 percent. About one-fourth of the immigrants are from Europe and an increasing number (about 5 percent) are from Africa. Immigrants from the former Soviet Union numbered 13,260 annually from 1990-94, and increased to 20,327 annually in 1995-96: a 3 percent increase. Of all the former Soviet Jews arriving in the United States, 35 percent come to the city, compared to only 14-15 percent among all other immigrants since the 1980s.

In 1992, the Immigration and Naturalization Service decided to provide more data on the former Soviet Jews. That information revealed that 35 percent of them came from Ukraine (more than from any other country) 21 percent from Russia, 15 percent from Uzbekistan and 8 percent from Belarus.

"The thing that surprised us was the immigration from Uzbekistan, which has increased rather dramatically," said Salvo. "New York City is a big draw for them. We are getting 72 percent of all [their] immigrants to the U.S."

Of all immigrants arriving in the city, 61 percent come because of family ties here, 11 percent come with employment visas, and 10.3 percent come on lottery or diversity visas, those set aside for countries that have not sent large numbers of immigrants here in the previous five years. Immigrants with refugee status are not counted in that tally, and individual countries of the former Soviet Union do not send large enough numbers here to be disqualified for those visas.

In 1995-96, fully 1,800 of the immigrants from the former Soviet Union arriving in the city came on lottery visas, which were not available to such a degree in 1990-94.

Thus, Salvo emphasized, to suggest there has been a precipitous decline in immigration from the former Soviet Union ignores the increasing number of those arriving as other than refugees.

read more: