Lawmakers Monday approved a bill that will lift the travel restrictions that were a hallmark of authoritarian communist rule, allowing virtually all Soviet citizens who can obtain visas to travel abroad.
President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, under pressure from Western governments, has been pushing for passage of the legislation.President Bush has said that only when the law is adopted can he give Moscow most-favored-nation status, which lowers tariffs.
The Supreme Soviet legislature approved the bill by a vote of 320-37 with 32 abstentions.
The law does not state when travel restrictions would be lifted, but the Supreme Soviet approved a separate resolution setting a target date of Jan. 1, 1993. The resolution also asks the national Cabinet to report within two weeks on whether some measures can take effect sooner.
Viktor Kucherenko, chairman of the legislature's budget committee, said initial plans for a July 1992 target date did not give the government enough time to prepare for the expected travel boom.
"We cannot just remove the collar from emigres, kick them out with our feet and say, `Go wherever you want,"' Kucherenko said.
"We must create conditions not like those we have now - an intolerable half-year wait for tickets and a wait of months to exchange money - but normal conditions, for which a year of preparation is needed."
The bill received initial approval in November 1989, but final approval was repeatedly delayed. Many lawmakers objected to the anticipated $160 million cost of carrying out the law.
Lawmaker Fyodor Burlatsky, the main author of the legislation, has estimated that 500,000 Soviets will emigrate annually and 5 million to 7 million will travel abroad when it comes into effect.
He estimates the law's implementation will cost 160 million to 240 million rubles ($269 million to $403 million) in Soviet currency and 110 million rubles ($185 million) in foreign currency.
The law would allow travel abroad for virtually anyone who has permission from another country to enter and has no outstanding alimony obligations, criminal charges or recent knowledge of state secrets.
It establishes appeal procedures for people denied permission to leave the Soviet Union.
Previous votes on the legislation have fallen short in one or the other of the two chambers of the Soviet legislature. Last week, lawmakers agreed to procedures that led to Monday's joint session and vote.