US to pause issuing non-immigrant visas in Russia: Embassy
AFP photoWashington will halt the issuance of all non-immigrant visas in Russia for nine days from Aug. 23 and will thereafter reduce visa operations, the United States embassy in Moscow said Aug. 21, 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 U.S. consulates will remain suspended indefinitely," an embassy statement said.
It said all scheduled appointments for visa applicants would be cancelled.
President Vladimir Putin, reacting to new sanctions imposed by the U.S. Congress which President Donald Trump reluctantly signed into law, last month ordered Washington to cut diplomatic and technical staff in Russia by 755 people, or by about 60 percent, by Sept. 1.
"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.
The United States has three consulates in Russia, in Saint Petersburg, Yekaterinburg in the Urals and Vladivostok in the far east.
The move, which is likely to further sour already battered U.S.-Russia relations, means Russian citizens wanting to visit the United States for tourism will no longer be able to apply via U.S. consulates outside Moscow and will have to travel to the Russian capital instead.
That will pose a serious logistical challenge for some Russians whose country, the world’s largest by territory, stretches across eleven time zones.
The U.S. embassy in Moscow will also cease issuing visas to citizens of Belarus -- which does not have a U.S. 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.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said earlier this month that the United States had issued around 150,000 visas to Russian citizens last year.