By Emil Danielyan
The number of Armenians seeking entry into the United States fell by nearly one third to 11,877 last year, according to the U.S. consulate in Yerevan. Most of them continued to be denied it.
Figures obtained by RFE/RL from the U.S. embassy on Tuesday show that as many as 16,822 Armenian citizens applied for a U.S. visa in 2002. The drop is particularly sharp compared to 1999 which saw about 27,000 such applications.
Just over 5,000 Armenians were actually granted an entry permit in 2003, an almost 26 percent decrease from the previous year’s level. Many of them are thought to have left for the United States in search of employment.
The U.S., notably its state of California, has been a major destination for hundreds of thousands of Armenians that have out-migrated from their unemployment-stricken country since the collapse of its Soviet-era economy in the early 1990s. Scores of them have lived and worked there, both legally and illegally, for the past decade.
Armenians will thus be among the beneficiaries of President George W. Bush’s new initiative that would enable illegal immigrants to legalize their stay and employment in the country for at least three years. The scheme was announced on January 7 and needs the approval of the U.S. Congress.
It remains to be seen whether Bush’s “temporary worker program” will spur economic out-migration from Armenia which the Armenian government says has declined considerably since the 1990s. Officials in Yerevan point to recent years’ robust economic growth that hit a record-high rate of 15 percent in 2003.
However, the growth has not yet had a tangible impact on many people, with unemployment remaining extremely high and wages very low.