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#8 - JRL 7260
Russia Criticizes US For New Visa Requirements
July 22, 2003

MOSCOW (AP)--Russia lashed out at the U.S. on Tuesday for its new, more stringent visa requirements, saying they will hamper contacts between the two countries.

Under the new rules, which the U.S. Embassy in Moscow posted on its Web site Friday, virtually anybody applying for a nonimmigrant visa anywhere in the world will be required to appear in person for an interview beginning Aug. 1.

Previously, consular officers decided on a case-by-case basis whether an application required an interview. The increased workload means people will have to wait six to eight weeks for a visa, instead of one or two weeks.

"The United States' wish to further complicate its visa procedures is regretable," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said, Interfax reported.

U.S. visa policies have long been a source of anger among ordinary Russians, who can be denied a nonimmigrant visa unless they can prove they are not potential immigrants and do not intend to overstay a visitor's visa.

The new changes reflect the post-Sept. 11 concern that potential attackers will enter with a legal visa.

"These changes in procedures reflect our concern for ensuring the safety of U.S. residents and visitors alike, not a desire to make it more difficult for legitimate travelers to enter the U.S.," the embassy said on its Web site.

But Yakovenko said the visa issue was hindering "the development of business contacts and contacts between the citizens of our countries."

He noted that the requirement for a personal interview would cause great inconvenience for people living far from a U.S. consulate.

Yakovenko expressed indignation that U.S. officials did not warn the Foreign Ministry about the upcoming changes and have provided no official explanation.

Russian visa requirements are also a source of inconvenience for U.S. travelers, but the hurdles are mostly bureaucratic and categorical refusals far less common.

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