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NEW IMMIGRANTS FROM U.S.S.R. HAVE PROBLEMS DESPITE GOOD SOVIET TRAINING, FINDING SIMILAR JOB NOT EASY

The Vekhter family belongs to a new and hopeful wave of immigrants now entering the United States.

Highly trained in the Soviet Union in the sciences, engineering and other professional fields, they still must overcome some rather steep obstacles.

One is learning English.

Another is finding work comparable to what they did in the Soviet Union.

That is not as easy as it might seem, in spite of their considerable experience and educational credentials.

In 1990, some 80 Soviet immigrant families moved to the Buffalo area with the help of Jewish Family Services of Buffalo & Erie County, according to Glenda Cadwallader, administrator of that organization's resettlement program. Seven more families are due to arrive before the end of December.

They come here with what little they can carry. Soviet families are allowed to take only a restricted number of items from their country, mainly personal items. And it can take six months or even a year before other items they've boxed for shipping arrive, Ms. Cadwallader said.

Such was the case of Yanina and Akivo Vekhter and their 4-year-old son, Daniel.

"One rug," Vekhter said, recalling the strict list of personal items his family could bring to the United States. "Not all books."

Mrs. Vekhter nodded. "And you have to find the materials to make your own boxes for packing."

In January, the restrictions on what can be shipped out of the country are expected to become even more strict, she said.

The Vekhters came to Buffalo in August 1989 from Kishinev, the capital of the Moldavian Republic, with a population of 700,000.

Mrs. Vekhter, who has a good command of English, is a physics/optics researcher. She is working toward her doctorate at the University at Buffalo.

Her husband is an electrical engineer who designed various kinds of instruments in Kishinev for medical and commercial use. In spite of excellent references, he has to this day been unable to find an engineering position in the Buffalo area.

While he polishes his newly learned English phrases, he has been doing volunteer work in the biophysics department of Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Asked why they chose to leave the Soviet Union, Mrs. Vekhter knits her brow and chooses her words carefully.

"The situation is very unstable there," she said. "A lot of Jews now are leaving. Jews are always like strangers in that country, and nobody can predict how it can work against you."

With the help of Jewish Family Services, the family found an apartment in North Buffalo. The organization also helped out with initial expenses for resettlement. It guides families through basic survival skills, such as how to obtain a driver's license, for example.

The families also have access to language instruction at the International Institute and are guided through a number of job readiness workshops.

"The transfer of their skills is sometimes a problem," said Ms. Cadwallader. Soviet physicians, for example, typically spend two years retraining in the United States after they emigrate here. They also must pass their medical boards in English.

In the Soviet Union, engineers have a more preferred status than doctors, Ms. Cadwallader said. Here, the situation is reversed.

Vekhter is finding that to be true. Perhaps some globally minded engineering concern in Western New York, perhaps looking to do business in the Soviet Union, could use his skills? He hopes so.

Most recently, there's been another obstacle.

The Department of Social Services withdrew its support of daycare expenses at the Jewish Center for the Vekhter's son, Daniel, because UB is "not an approved program." It seems that social services only pays for daycare if Mrs. Vekhter happened to be pursuing an associate's degree.

The Jewish Center has responded by making it possible for the Vekhter's son to remain in his current daycare program. But families like the Vekhters -- who are struggling to become productive U.S. citizens and taxpayers -- could certainly use a helping hand to get on their feet.

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