#1 - JRL 7066
February 18, 2003
A Group Links Visa Hassles to Trade Ties
By Robin Munro
A 25 percent refusal rate for Russians applying for U.S. visas is hurting business and trade between Russia and the United States, a new lobby group said Monday.
The Russian-American Public Visa Council said the visa refusal rate was about 15 percent until 2000 but had increased to 25 percent in 2001 and 2002.
The proportion of rejected business applications is much higher -- about 63 percent, said Igor Turitsyn, head of the council, which was founded Feb. 7 to raise visa awareness.
"We want to alert people that the refusal to give Russians visas had a direct effect on business, trade and investment," Igor Suzdaltsev, a council board member, said at a news conference.
Citing figures from the Foreign Ministry's web site, he said the result has been a decline in trade between the two countries of 11 percent in 2001 and 9 percent in the first nine months of 2002 (which suggests an annual rate of 12 percent). The United States has slipped into second place behind Germany as the leading direct foreign investor and U.S. investments are sliding.
The State Statistics Committee was unable to confirm the figures Monday.
The figures could not be checked with the U.S. Embassy, which was closed due to an American holiday. U.S. Consul General James Warlick said earlier that out of the 120,000 applications for nonimmigrant visas filed last year, 90,000 were approved.
While unable to give figures, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said Monday there were many reasons why visas were refused, including security concerns. He said there was no evidence that the refusals had hurt business or trade.
Any applicant for a nonimmigrant U.S. visa has to provide evidence that he has a strong reason to return home, he added.
Suzdaltsev called for more openness on the reasons for refusing visas and said the rejection rate assumed that those seeking U.S. visas wanted to stay in the United States illegally. "To assume that a quarter of Russians are criminal is unjust," he said.
Suzdaltsev said the council has surveyed European embassies and found the average refusal rate was less than 3 percent and that those countries had little problem with Russians overstaying their visits. He said the United States should bring its rejection rate into line with that of European countries.
The council also said it is concerned about the Russian treatment of U.S. citizens, including the ejection at Sheremetyevo Airport of trade union representative Irene Stevenson about two months ago.
The council is composed mostly of Russian scholars based in Russia and the United States. Members described the council as a group of concerned citizens. They declined to disclose their funding sources.