US Reduces Russian Visa Services as Kremlin Caps Diplomat Numbers

The US embassy in Moscow on Monday blamed the planned changes on the Russian government's move to force US diplomatic missions in the country to cut staff by nearly two-thirds, reported The Financial Times.

According to the Foreign Ministry's official website, the United States embassy has announced today that the visas granting to non-migrants will be suspended from August 23 through September 1.

Visa operations at the US consulates, located in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, will "remain suspended indefinitely", according to Reuters.

Russia's decision to reduce the United States diplomatic presence called into question Russia's seriousness about pursuing better relations with Washington, the embassy added, while signalling its new scaled back visa regime could be in place for some time.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Americans would have to cut about 755 staff members at the Moscow embassy and at three regional consulates.

Staff reductions have already begun, according to US embassy officials.

Under the new procedures, Russians in or near Moscow will have to wait as long as six months for a USA visa.

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The latest U.S. response infuriated the Kremlin.

The Kremlin said it was a response to new USA anti-Russian sanctions. In that time frame, Russian Federation issued about 95,000 nonimmigrant visas, the bulk of which were for tourists.

The embassy has already begun cancelling appointments and asking applicants to reschedule. With fewer consulate staff available after the reduction on September 1, visa processing for Russian citizens will be conducted "on a greatly reduced scale", the embassy said.

It added that in September it was planning to issue a block of visa appointments to students studying in the U.S.

The decision would come as a blow to Russian tourists, almost 250,000 of whom visited the US last year, according to The Associated Press.

"You now have an entire nation's work coming through one office with far fewer staff", said Matthew Morley, an American immigration attorney based in Moscow.

Reacting to the latest move, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a news conference in Moscow that Russia will "study" the announcement but that it "is not going to take it out on USA citizens". Slutsky is the chairman of the Duma's global affairs committee.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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