US embassy in Russia temporarily halts issue of non-immigrant visas
“As of 0900 Moscow time Monday, August 21, the U.S. Mission will begin canceling current nonimmigrant visa appointments countrywide,” the US mission said in a statement.
The embassy also announced that “all nonimmigrant visa operations across Russia will be suspended starting August 23.”
“Visa operations at the U.S. consulates will remain suspended indefinitely,” the US mission stated, adding that they will resume at the embassy in Moscow on September 1.
Earlier Russian citizens could apply for tourist visas in local US consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, but the move ends this practice, forcing applicants to go to the Russian capital.
“NIV [non-immigrant visa] interviews at the U.S. Consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok are suspended until further notice,” the statement reads.
“Affected applicants will be contacted if there is a change as to the time and date of their interview,” the US mission said, adding that people will be instructed how to reschedule their canceled appointments.
Moscow will first examine the measures announced by the US embassy in Russia before making a decision on retaliatory steps, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in Moscow on Monday.
"As for our response, as I have already said, it is necessary to study in detail the decisions that the Americans have announced today. We will see,” Lavrov stated.
“I can say only one thing – we won't take it out on American citizens," the minister added.
Lavrov believes that the visa decision was made to worsen Russian citizens’ attitude toward the authorities.
“The first impression is that the American authors of these decisions made one more attempt to draw disfavor from Russian citizens toward the actions of the Russian authorities.”
He added the move resembled the logic of the masterminds of the ‘color revolutions,’ as well as “the purest form of the inertia of the Obama administration.”
The suspension of non-immigrant visa issuance also affects Belarusian citizens who wanted to apply in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The US mission urged them to “schedule NIV appointments at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw; the U.S. Embassy in [Kiev]; or the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius.”
Russian Foreign Minister said that the move has “an obvious political connotation.”
Russians will have to wait for 85 days for an appointment at the US embassy in Moscow if they want to apply for standard tourist visas, according to the US State Department website. The appointment waiting time is 53 days for other non-immigrant visas, such as business ones, and students will have to wait 36 days. Before the announcement, the time limits were reportedly much shorter even during high season.
In comparison, it takes only one day to make an appointment for applicants for US visitor visas in Latvian capital Riga, four days in Kiev, Ukraine, and 20 days in Vilnius, Lithuania.
The move comes on the heels of Moscow’s order to cut the American diplomatic corps by 755 people and bring it to the numbers equivalent to Russian diplomatic staff in the US, which is 455 people.
To meet the deadline of the Russia’s order, which expires on September 1, the US diplomatic mission has already begun “planning for departures and staff reductions.”
“Russia’s decision to reduce the United States’ diplomatic presence here calls into question Russia’s seriousness about pursuing better relations,” the embassy statement said.
Moscow announced the order to cut the number of American diplomats in Russia and halt the use of embassy storage facilities in the capital on July 28, in retaliation to the US Congress’ approval of new sanctions against Russia.
Prior to that, Moscow had repeatedly warned Washington of possible punitive measures in light of the stalemate over the closure of two Russian diplomatic compounds in the US.
Russian diplomatic property was confiscated by the Obama administration in 2016, in response to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election. Back then, the US also expelled 35 Russian diplomats and denied Russian diplomatic staff access to the New York and Maryland compounds.