November 1, 2007
Tougher Visa Rules – What They Mean
By Anna Arutunyan
Demonstrating that it is resolute in introducing immigration laws similar to those in Western countries, the Russian government recently unveiled new, tougher business visa regulations. Foreigners – particularly those living and working in Russia on business visas – are worried about how this will affect them. Some seeking to renew their business visas in a third country were finding that what used to be a breezy, one-day procedure could turn into a 10-day wait. Meanwhile, new regulations seemed to target the entire practice of getting visas in third countries.
One of the more considerable changes came in a decree on visas passed by the new Prime Minister, Viktor Zubkov, on October 4. Now, foreigners traveling on business visas can remain in the country for no more than 90 days at a time, even if they have multiple-entry visas. And it’s soon going to become much harder to obtain them in third countries.
Business visas are popular among expatriates who live in Russia over long periods of time, extending their visas regularly by travelling to neighboring countries. But the new decree toughens rules regulating this type of visas, an apparent attempt to force expatriates who live and work here to obtain work visas instead.
Point 9.1 in the decree reads:
“A foreign citizen who is present in a state that he is not a citizen of may only get a visa if he has a permit for a consecutive stay of at least 90 days in that country.” What this means for some citizens of Western Europe is that a trip across the border from Russia is no longer enough to renew their business visa.
In a statement to The Moscow News, the FMS confirmed the new restriction but pointed to several exceptions – these could be based on
“a decision by a diplomatic representative” in cases where a foreigner needed to attend various “international and domestic official, economic, socio-political, scientific, cultural, sports or religious events.” Another exception was a close relative who was ill.
A clause lower down in the decree clarifies that an exception is made “based on the international principle of mutuality.”
Alexei Filippenkov of the Visa Delight agency explained what this means. If a European country allows Russians to obtain visas from a third country, then citizens from that European country will have the same privilege when it comes down to getting a Russian visa.
“Our migration legislation is being brought in line with analogous international legislation,” he told The Moscow News.
The same concerns another important change. Now, foreigners who obtain a multiple entry business visa that is active for a year will be able to stay for no more than 90 consecutive days, and no more than a total of 180 days out of a year.
“It’s impossible to work in England or the United States if you have a business visa,” Filippenkov said. Foreigners are hard pressed to obtain a work visa.
According to an FMS statement, “issuing visas of all categories and types is… in the competence of diplomatic missions and consular offices of the Russian Federation. We recommend that foreign citizens address the Foreign Ministry of Russia regarding practical questions.”
It was unclear whether the minimum wait for a visa had indeed risen to 10 days. The Russian consulate in Riga, the Latvian capital where expatriates frequently go to renew business visas, when asked if this was the case, told a Moscow News reporter to read the official Rossiiskaya Gazeta, where the changes were published. But there was no mention about any new wait for visas. Asked how long it would take to issue a visa to a British citizen, an unnamed official said that the consulate was “not issuing visas to British citizens who had no permanent residence permit in Latvia.” Asked the same question about U.S. citizens, the official said that the process will take from 10 to 14 days.
The FMS said that, as under the previous law, visas must be issued within 20 days after the appropriate documents had been filed.
There were reports that foreigners that usually got their visa renewed in one day now had to wait 10 days, but a Moscow News correspondent who is a British citizen obtained her business visa in one day in Kiev this week.
“Right now it’s a little chaotic over there because they haven’t come to a unified reading of the decree,” Filippenkov said. “For now, people will still be able to go over there for visas, but that’s going to end soon.”
According to Filippenkov, considering that Russians have to wait weeks – sometimes months – to get their European visas, the 10-day wait isn’t that long.