Question: When will the visa sections resume their work at Russian consulates?
Yevgeny Ivanov: Russian Government Instruction No. 635-r of March 16, 2020 temporarily limits the entry of foreign citizens into the Russian Federation and the issuing of visas, including tourist and online visas. This instruction was repeatedly updated in the past three months, and additional categories of foreign citizens not covered by entry restrictions were added to it.
The Foreign Ministry’s website has a section for informing Russian and foreign citizens in connection with the coronavirus infection. The section offers detailed explanations for various categories of foreign citizens who can enter Russia during the current restrictions.
The standard procedure of issuing visas, including tourist visas, will immediately resume after the above-mentioned restrictions are lifted.
As you understand, the relevant decision will be made, depending on how the epidemiological situation develops in Russia and elsewhere.
Question: Is the issue of presenting coronavirus test certificates for entering Russia or requesting Russian visas being considered for foreign nationals?
Yevgeny Ivanov: One can unequivocally say that members of the Government Coordinating Council to contain the incidence of the novel coronavirus infection in the Russian Federation will decide on opening the borders with due consideration for the opinion of Rospotrebnadzor that charts the measures to prevent the coronavirus infection from reentering Russia from abroad.
It is up to epidemiologists to decide what specific measures they should introduce in this context. In turn, we will closely monitor the position of the World Health Organisation and the relevant experience of foreign countries, and we will analyse the decisions of their specialised agencies.
Indeed, some countries have already made preliminary statements that, from now on, foreigners will have to present certificates proving that they do not have the coronavirus infection while entering their territory.
Supposing that Russia introduces such measures, this will make it necessary to clarify the format of these certificates, their duration, as well as agencies having the right to issue them, to confirm that the concerned persons have these documents, etc.
Question: In March 2020, many foreign citizens obtained Russian visas but were unable to visit the country because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Can they extend their visas, get a visa-fee refund or can they obtain new visas free of charge?
Yevgeny Ivanov: Indeed, during the coronavirus infection pandemic, many people were forced to drastically change their work schedules and personal plans, also cancelling international trips. It would be incorrect to ignore this problem but we have to understand legislative requirements making it possible to search for solutions to it. You see, visas are documents with a limited duration. Russian regulatory documents do not call for extending visas that have been obtained but have not been used. This approach meets international practice, including that in most Schengen zone countries.
At the same time, the Foreign Ministry considers it possible to suggest that foreign citizens who have called off their trips to Russia after obtaining single or double entry visas valid starting in mid-March, to apply for similar new visas free of charge within the next six months, after Russia lifts entry restrictions, provided that they submit documents serving as legal grounds to issue visas for a new period.
Question: At what stage is the work to implement President Putin’s instruction to introduce universal e-visas as of 2021?
Yevgeny Ivanov: Before the restrictions were imposed, the pilot project to introduce e-visas we have been implementing since 2017 made it possible for citizens of 53 states to enter the Far Eastern Federal District (and will allow them to do so again as soon as the restrictions are lifted), the Kaliningrad Region as of July 1, 2019, and to St Petersburg and the Leningrad Region as of October 1, 2019, after procuring a visa in the electronic format.
These three separate e-visas, each for one of the Russian regions I have mentioned, will continue to exist until the end of this year. As of January 1, 2021, they will be replaced with a single e-visa valid for the entire territory of the Russian Federation.
To implement the presidential instruction, the Foreign Ministry has drafted a federal law on the universal electronic visa, which has been discussed by the Working Group for the Implementation of the Concept of State Migration Policy of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.
On June 23, the draft was approved in the first reading by the State Duma. Drafts of the government regulations needed for implementing the draft federal law will be submitted to the Government before July 18.
According to the draft’s e-visa procurement algorithm, a foreigner will receive a visa within four calendar days of posting an application on the Russian Foreign Ministry website and will be able to use it for travelling to Russia during a period of the following 60 days. But the duration of the trip itself should not exceed 16 days.
Question: In some cases, foreigners faced problems entering St Petersburg and the Leningrad Region with e-visas because of inaccuracies they had made while filling out the visa questionnaires on the Foreign Ministry website. The border guards refused to let some of them in. Will something be done to minimise this in the future, including for foreigners, who will be using universal e-visas?
Yevgeny Ivanov: We have adopted information and technical measures to take the edge off the problem of foreign citizens making mistakes while filling out the application form for e-visas. The Foreign Ministry’s specialised website has been upgraded to enable the use of the surname/name combination from the machine-readable line of a passport. This has made for a simple, unequivocal and uniform correspondence of personal data in an e-visa to a foreign citizen’s passport.
The website has a reference to a calculator counting the days of a foreigner’s sojourn in Russia. In addition to this, the notification that a person has been allowed to enter the Russian Federation is sent along with a brief memorandum on the need to check the personal data in the notification with those in the passport as well as the duration of the stay in the Russian Federation. As of January 1, 2021, both manual and automatic verification of whether a foreign citizen has filled out an e-visa application correctly will be in place.
I am confident that these measures will bring the number of entry denials at the Russian Federation border to a minimum.
Question: Is there any chance that universal e-visas will be launched earlier than January 1, 2021?
Yevgeny Ivanov: The Russian Government has approved a plan of organisational and technical measures meant to ensure the introduction of e-visas on January 1, 2021. This date has been coordinated with all agency stakeholders involved in the plan: apart from the Foreign Ministry there are the Interior Ministry, the Border Service of the Federal Security Service of Russia, the Ministry of Communications, and the Ministry of Transport, and each of these is responsible for definite segments.
The entire set of hardware solutions is being upgraded, something that requires effort, time and financial resources.
Specifically, we will have to check whether e-visas are available to foreign citizens who cross the border by train.
Thus, we still think it expedient to abide by the previously set timeframes; this will enable us to fully prepare for the launch of the system across the country.
Question: Are there plans to make e-visas multiple, as suggested by Rostourism?
Yevgeny Ivanov: We do not rule out a situation where e-visas will indeed become multiple. But decisions of this kind should be adopted based on an analysis of the accumulated experience and with account taken of all factors, including the migration threat. Let me say this: the Russian law enforcement agencies estimate that over 2,000 foreigners, who entered Russia without visas in 2018 with World Cup Fan IDs, are still lingering in the country. As of now, they are actually illegal migrants.
Question: How much will it cost to get a universal e-visa?
Yevgeny Ivanov: Currently, Russian consulates issue nearly 1.5 million single- and double-entry visas per year. We expect that in 2021 the majority of these applicants will prefer to get e-visas without having to leave their homes.
Accordingly, it was decided to charge no more than $50 processing fee for an e-visa to avoid a drop in federal budget revenues. The President and the Government have approved this approach. An e-visa will cost nothing if a child is under the age of six.
E-visa costs are not a significant part of a tourist’s total expenses during his or her sojourn in Russia.
Research shows that an average budget needed for a trip to Russia comes to about $2,000, with accommodation expenses standing at about 23 percent of the overall sum, international carriage 24 percent, food 19 percent, and internal passenger transport 9 percent.
Accordingly, the compensatory principle will in no way obstruct inbound tourism. Apart from other things, the processing fee is meant to prevent manipulations with the information system of the sort that are being recorded now and attempts to congest it with fraudulent questionnaires.
Question: Do you agree with the estimates of experts on the tourist industry, who believe Russia’s excessively tough visa rules impede the development of inbound tourism?
Yevgeny Ivanov: What’s important is that e-visas will be accessible to the citizens of the states from the list to be approved by the Government of the Russian Federation. Naturally, the departments concerned will proceed from the list of states the citizens of which may use e-visas to enter the zones of the pilot project – the Far Eastern Federal District, as well as the Kaliningrad and Leningrad Regions. I would like to once again point out that the list includes 53 countries including the EU member states, China, Japan, India and Turkey.
I would like to emphasise that travel to Russia is already visa-free for citizens of another 60 states under international treaties with foreign countries.
Thus as of January 2021, we expect citizens of 113 states to have an opportunity to enter Russia without a visa stamp in their passports. These countries have about 4 billion people or half of the world’s population.
That said, according to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), visa-free entry into the US and the Schengen zone countries, which invariably rank at the top of tourist appeal, is allowed to citizens of merely 39 and 62 states, respectively. Everyone is free to decide whether the rules for entering Russia are so tough and how much they impede the development of inbound tourism.
Question: Rostourism recently made a proposal to issue multiple tourist visas for up to five years. Is the Foreign Ministry willing to support this proposal?
Yevgeny Ivanov: Indeed, in April the Foreign Ministry received a package of proposals from Rostourism to support the tourist industry by further liberalising the visa rules of the Russian Federation. Many of them require serious analysis at the interdepartmental level, in part, by the working group on implementing the national concept for the government migration policy. As for its proposal on multiple-entry tourist visas, since the end of last year the Foreign Ministry has been implementing its initiative on a draft law that provides for issuing tourist visas valid for up to six months to all foreigners (the during of the overall stay in Russia must not exceed three months during this period) based only on a hotel booking for the first trip. We see no obstacles to increasing now this visa validity term even to one year. Needless to say, this will require additional discussions with all the ministries and departments concerned.
As for an opportunity to get a tourist visa for up to five years in perspective, we have no objections of principle in this regard, either.
At the same time, as was mentioned earlier, we consider it expedient to move forward step by step, analysing the accumulated experience.
That said, I would like to emphasise that under the international treaties signed by the Russian Federation, three year tourist visas have long been issued to US citizens while the citizens of the EU countries have an opportunity to receive business and humanitarian visas for a term of up to five years.
Question: What other new rules will Russia adopt on visas in the near future?
Yevgeny Ivanov: We would like to simplify travel to Russia for foreigners that are close relatives of Russian citizens.
Now our Ministry is working on a draft law to allow foreigners to get multi long-term private visas based on a written request from one their close relatives, citizens of the Russian Federation. In this way, there will be no need to for them to submit invitations to the territorial bodies of the Russian Ministry of the Interior.
The draft law also determines the categories of foreigners that will be able to get multiple-entry private visas with long validity from a consular office of the Russian Federation on the basis of a request from their Russian relatives: husband or wife; children, including adopted children; blood brothers/sisters and half-brothers/sisters, grandchildren, parents, as well as grandmothers and grandfathers.
The validity period of multiple-entry private visas will be increased to one year and their holders will be able to stay in Russia during the entire year without any restrictions.
Photo: Фото: Юрий Машков/ТАСС