BONN, DEC. 14 -- Germany proposed today to set a tight quota on the immigration of Soviet Jews, accepting as few as 1,000 a year despite tens of thousands of applications.
According to spokesmen for the federal and several state governments, the interior ministers of the 16 German states, meeting in Dresden, were nearly unanimous in their support of a proposal to impose a ceiling of 1,000 on Jews seeking to leave the Soviet Union.
A survey of premiers of the German states conducted this week by the General Jewish Weekly found all but one premier in favor of a quota of 1,000, according to Hans-Peter Foehrding, an editor of the Bonn newspaper.
Immigration experts estimate that 150,000 Jews will leave the Soviet Union this year. Most of them are expected to head for Israel or the United States, but many thousands have expressed interest in settling in Germany.
The question of whether to make an exception for Soviet Jews in Germany's highly restrictive immigration law -- an emotional issue that rekindles this country's decades-long discussion of its guilt over the Holocaust -- has been hotly debated in Parliament.
Opinion polls show the German public to be worried that unrest in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union will provoke a wave of immigration that could threaten the newly reunited nation's social peace and economic boom.
An estimated 2 million ethnic Germans live in the Soviet Union and are entitled to move here under German law. A liberalized emigration law expected to be passed soon by the Soviet legislature would eliminate the need for Soviet citizens with passports to obtain special exit visas.
Although Germany has one of the world's most liberal laws governing asylum for the politically oppressed, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government has repeatedly stated its policy that Germany is not a country of immigrants. The government has said that Soviet Jews are not eligible for political asylum unless they can meet a strict test by proving oppression in each individual case.
More than 4,000 Soviet Jews poured into East Germany in the months before German unification Oct. 3. But in September, after its consulates in the Soviet Union had been flooded with more than 10,000 applications, the Bonn government ordered its diplomats there to stop processing applications.
In the late 1970s, West Germany made an exception to its policy of limiting most immigration to ethnic Germans by setting a quota of 30,000 for Vietnamese boat people. An attempt this summer to create a similar exception for up to 7,000 Albanian refugees failed because of disagreements between the federal and state governments.
Germany's Jewish community -- which numbered about 600,000 before the Nazis came to power and is estimated at 40,000 today -- is outraged that the government is not welcoming an opportunity to revive Jewish life in the country.
"In the view of the Jewish community's central council, accepting such a small number is laughable," editor Foehrding said. Berlin's Jewish community said in a statement that Germany has a moral obligation to take in Jews fleeing other countries.
The United States has set an immigration limit for the current fiscal year of 50,000 Soviet refugees, most of whom are expected to be Soviet Jews, and last year admitted up to 20,000 other Soviets as non-refugee immigrants.
The Bavarian interior minister, Edmund Stoiber, told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper that the federal Interior Ministry "proposed a quota of 1,000 per year" for Soviet Jews.
A spokesman for the federal ministry said the states must set a ceiling because they pay to support and house immigrants. "The number 1,000 is largely influenced by the attitudes of the states," the spokesman told the Frankfurt newspaper.