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US visa changes to affect mainly Russian independent travelers, says authority

This problem will not affect package tours, the Association of Tour Operators of Russia said

MOSCOW, August 21. /TASS/. Changes in the visa-issuing procedures introduced by the US on Monday, will affect mostly independent travelers requesting US visas not only for tourism, but also for business, studies and other purposes, the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR) said on Monday.

It said this problem will not affect package tours. The US embassy on Monday declared that it was suspending the issuing of non-immigrant visas to Russian citizens starting from August 23. Visas will begin to be issued again as of September 1, but only in Moscow. Visas will not be issued by the consulates general in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

"Requests for academic programs in the US were rather active, but not all clients could get them even before the imposed restrictions, as the visa-issuing procedures this year have been already excessively long," the director of the department for education abroad of BSI GROUP tour operator, Irina Naumova, commented.

"That is why, the students who wanted to study exactly in the US and turned to us at the end of spring, failed to be in time for these programs in July-August," she added.

Tour operators note that the biggest problem will be for those who used the services of regional consulates, especially in the Far East. According to ATOR, the region accounted for some 40% of tourists applying for package tours.

Tour operators give three or four months as a realistic term for getting a visa.

On July 28, Moscow offered Washington to cap the number of diplomatic and technical staff working in the US Embassy to Moscow and the Consulates General in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok to the exact number of Russian diplomats and technical staff members working in the US before September 1.That means that the total number of the staff at US diplomatic and consular establishments will be reduced to 455 people.

In case the US takes further unilateral steps to cut Russian diplomatic staff, retaliatory measures will follow, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned.

These restrictive measures were imposed by Moscow in response to the closure of Russian diplomatic compounds last December and the law specifying tougher sanctions against Russia.