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Why is Russia looking to change the visa processes?
Getting a visit visa for Russia is one of the more lengthy processes compared to other destinations. With a focus on security, all applicants are required to give biometric data at a Russian visa centre as part of their visa application. This can become a lengthy, confusing and expensive process for many and it’s possible that many potential tourists and business investors could be deterred.
It’s reported that after the 2018 World Cup, 10% of those who visited Russia returned again for another visit. This would have been a driving factor behind Russia analysing its current processes.
President Vladimir Putin has expressed a desire to share the beautiful architecture, history and culture of Russia with the world. There was a highly positive media reaction during the 2018 World Cup hosted in various cities around the country, praising the welcoming and friendly attitude of its citizens.
One of the main host cities was St. Petersburg, which, being Russia’s historical capital for more than 200 years, is celebrated as a beautiful and culturally rich port city. Many tourists stop off here during cruises as well as for short city breaks, but until now, a visit visa has always been required. There are sometimes exceptions to this rule if you are stopping off during a cruise, but this again is tightly regulated.
President Putin has announced that by Autumn 2019, there will be an evisa trial for St. Petersburg alone. If this is successful, it will then be rolled out across Russia by 2021. Which citizenships will be included in the e-visa program has yet to be announced.
What are the current procedures for a Russian visa?
If you intend on visiting Russia for tourism or business, there are several requirements you must meet to obtain your visa. For UK citizens, these are as follows:
- Provide confirmation of accommodation and itinerary for your visit
- If you’re a tourist, you must obtain a “tourist voucher” and “tourist confirmation document”
- If you’re travelling on business, provide an invitation letter from the company you are visiting in Russia
- Visit an official visa processing centre to provide biometric data (if over 12 years of age)
- Self-employed, company directors, working from home or unemployed applicants need to provide financial information
- A passport valid for a minimum of six months after visa’s expiration date and has at least 2 blank pages
What will the processes likely be after the changes?
Many other countries have recently made changes to their visa application processes and moved to a fully electronic platform. This allows applicants to complete all of the necessary information online, upload their documents and receive a digital copy of their visa ready to print off for their trip.
Some countries such as Turkey can turn around an application in a matter of hours using this system if everything meets their requirements. This allows travel to and from Turkey to be much more flexible and has undoubtedly has a hand in their booming tourist sector.
It’s unlikely that Russia will drop all of their security checks. They will likely speed up the visa processes by moving the biometric data collection to the customs desk upon arrival. This will make visiting the country more streamlined as it will remove the need to make a trip to a visa processing centre in the UK prior to travelling. As there are only 3 in the UK, located in London, Manchester and Edinburgh, this could potentially save a lot of time and money for tourists.
It remains to be seen if Russia will scrap their tourist voucher and invitation letter requirements completely, or merge this with their online application. Keeping this requirement may be a way of retaining a level of pre-qualified security in the e-visa process.