A spokesperson from the US embassy located in Russia declared Monday that they would resume some of the visa services in US consulates, which had been previously canceled due to the diplomatic expulsions, that left them with a staff shortage.
The United States had started to reduce their visa services in Russia since August. There was also a temporary suspension of this service in the Moscow embassy for a week, and also in every consulate. Since then the operation hasn´t regained previous capacity.
On the fiscal year 2016 over 190,000 Russians received non-immigrant visas that allowed them to enter the USA, according to information by the Department of State. This meant an 18% increase in contrast to the previous year. Those visas were granted for the purposes of business, tourism, and academic exchanges, among others.
Even before the United States announced it, their consular labor had significantly decreased in Russia, according to information posted on a daily basis by the Department of State. That information specifically showed that that the waiting time for tourist visa appointments on the Moscow embassy had increased from 50 to 70 days between August 2 and August 19, and from 17 to 44 days in the St. Petersburg consulate, during the same period of time. In contrast, only one day is required to get an appointment for a tourist visa in the Latvian capital, Riga, four days in Kiev, Ukraine and 20 days in Vilnius, Lithuania.
The suspension of visa services also affected Belarusian citizens that wanted to apply from Moscow and St. Petersburg. The US embassy recommended them to “schedule visa appointments with the US embassy in Warsaw; the US embassy in Kiev or the US embassy in Vilnius.
Before this diplomatic tension, Russian citizens could request tourist, business or student visas in the US consulates located in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok, but this ceased as a consequence afterward. This meant that Russian citizens with the intention of visiting the United States could no longer apply for a visa in consulates located outside of Moscow; they now had to travel all the way to the capital.
Both US and Russian measures began in December 2016, when the US president at the time, Barack Obama, expelled 35 Russian diplomats for allegedly interfering with the US presidential elections, something that Moscow denied.
Putin didn´t strike back then, but when the US Congress approved new sanctions against Russia, they ordered Washington to reduce their diplomatic and technical staff to 755 people, that is a 60% cutback, by September 1.
Nevertheless, through last Monday´s statement, the embassy informed in an official newsletter that some of the visa services would resume on December 11. According to the newsletter: On December 11 consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok would start to offer a limited number of interviews for non-immigrant visas.
Official US sources also declared that: “we believe that the interaction between people and the commercial ties between the United States and Russia are the basis of stability regarding the bilateral relationship”. They also mentioned, nevertheless, that services would not return to former capacity, considering that Russia ordered the United States to decrease their diplomatic staff significantly.