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US to pause issuing non-immigrant visas in Russia: embassy

By AFP 21 August 2017

Washington will halt the issuing of all non-immigrant visas in Russia for nine days from Wednesday and will thereafter reduce visa operations, the US embassy in Moscow said Monday, citing the "Russian government-imposed cap" on its staff levels.

“All non-immigrant visa operations across Russia will be suspended on August 23. Operations will resume in Moscow on September 1; visa operations at the US consulates will remain suspended indefinitely,” an embassy statement said.

It said all scheduled appointments for visa applicants would be cancelled

Russia last month slashed the US diplomatic staff in the country by 755 employees to 455 — the same number Moscow has in the United States — in a retaliatory move against new sanctions passed by the US congress.

“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.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov argued that “the real reason” for curbing visa operations is not lack of staff however but “an attempt to provoke discontent among Russian citizens over the actions of the Russian government.”

Asked at a news conference about Moscow’s potential reaction to the move, Lavrov added that Russia “will not be taking out our anger on American citizens.”

The United States has three consulates in Russia, in Saint Petersburg, Yekaterinburg in the Urals and Vladivostok in the far east. Now those wanting to visit the US face travelling to Moscow for the application process.

The US embassy in Moscow will also cease issuing visas to citizens of Belarus — which does not have a US embassy — and they will now be redirected to Kiev, Warsaw and Vilnius.

“Capacity for interviews in the future will be greatly reduced because we have had to greatly reduce our staffing levels to comply with the Russian government’s requirement,” it said.

“We will operate at reduced capacity for as long as our staffing levels are reduced,” it said.

Washington issued about 190,000 visas to Russians in 2016, according to the US State Department figures. DM

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