November 13, 2007
Officials Explain Visa Changes
By Dave Nowak and Max Delany
Foreigners in Russia will have to apply for visas in their home countries or in a country where they can stay 90 days or more, a Federal Migration service official said Monday.
The clarification came as government officials attempted to explain the restrictive new rules after foreign business associations were swamped with inquiries about the new system.
Puzzled company representatives packed out events held by the American Chamber of Commerce and Association of European Businesses on Monday, where officials spoke from the Foreign Ministry and Federal Migration Service.
Confusion has reigned among expatriates over an Oct. 4 decree issued by Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov that shook up the application process and slashed the length of time foreigners can stay in Russia on multiple-entry business visas.
Speaking at the AEB meeting, Alexander Aksyonov, head of the migration service's visa and registration department, said foreigners could now only receive a new visa in countries where they are legally entitled to stay for more than 90 days.
This would essentially mean that many non-EU citizens could not get new visas in European countries and would have to return home.
Aksyonov also clarified another contentious part of the new legislation.
Multiple-entry business visas received before Oct. 17, the day the decree was adopted, will not be affected by the new legislation. But multiple-entry business visas issued after that date will now only allow stays of up to 90 days at a time.
Under the new rules, such visas will still last one year. But they will only let foreigners stay in Russia for up to 180 days of that visa year, and for no longer than 90 days at a time. Moreover, if a foreigner stays in Russia for 90 days straight, he or she is then required to leave and not come back until another 90 days have passed.
Aksyonov said the primary reason for implementing the new legislation was to bring Russian visa practices into line with "the European system," referring to the Schengen visa regime used by about half the countries in Europe. Under that system, Russians can get a single visa that allows them to travel freely between those countries.
Aksyonov said the new rules were in line with those in 33 countries that had the same rules for Russians traveling on business visas. He called the new rules a "liberalization" of Russia's migration policy.
Paul Vandoren, deputy head of the delegation of the European Commission to Russia, told the meeting that there remained a number of "outstanding issues" on visa policy but that dialogue was continuing between Russian and foreign officials.
"So many individuals have difficulties with visa legislation and are uncertain about the rules. It is too difficult for each individual to voice their concerns to the Russian authorities," Vandoren said.
Andrew Somers, president of the American Chamber of Commerce, said the organization had received a large number of e-mails and phone calls on the matter.
Russian officials had agreed to come and field questions at a members' meeting on the matter at very short notice, Somers said.
"It looks like the spirit is willing to resolve this situation," he said.
Somers said the chamber's lawyers were digesting the latest pronouncements from Russian officials and would produce a report later this week.
In the end, however, it seemed that some businesses were left just as confused as ever.
"It seems the officials don't understand the rules completely themselves," said Natalya Komoltseva, head of human resources at Nissan.
And despite the official reassurances, telephone calls to a number of Russian consulates around Europe on Monday showed that the system was by no means applied evenly.
A spokeswoman for the Russian Consulate in London said they were currently still issuing same-day visas and visas to U.S. citizens not residing in Britain but that the system was likely to change sometime next year.
"Either you will have to be a resident here or apply for the visa in your own country," the spokeswoman said.
"In the future anything is possible," she said.
A spokesman for the Russian Consulate in Dublin said U.S. citizens were currently only being given visas if they are resident in Ireland. She was uncertain if other EU citizens not resident in Ireland could receive visas in the country.
The consulate in Helsinki is currently refusing to issue visas to U.S. citizens or citizens of non-Schengen countries, said one U.S. businessman, who recently applied for a visa there. He added that there were even discrepancies between the various consulates within Finland.