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Business news
New Rules For Russian Tourists
08.24.2004 12:19

passpot_control St Petersburg Times

By Vladimir Kovalev

Staff Writer

St. Petersburgers visiting France and Italy in tour groups this season are facing additional passport checks by the consulates that issue their visas after they return to St. Petersburg, local tourist operators said this week.

The French consulate has introduced rules requiring city tourist operators to submit passports of all tourists the day after a group returns to prove that nobody stayed abroad as an illegal immigrant, the operators said Monday.

"[Now] we do not accept applications of tourists who plan to travel somewhere else [in Europe] if they go on a bus tour to France," Yulia Sidorova, of travel agency Extra Ltd., said Monday in a telephone interview.

"People are reacting to these new rules with understanding and no one seems too bothered about them," Sidorova said.

Galina Pushkina, an operator at IBI Travel, said tour guides have been collecting passports right after tourists are readmitted, either in the bus or in Pulkovo 2 airport shortly after border guards have examined the travel documents.

"We have to follow the rules and can't do much about them except obey," Pushkina said Monday in a telephone interview.

While the French consulate introduced the new rules in April, the Italian consulate started demanding to examine passports on tourists' return about a month ago, Pushkina said.

"Of course, not everybody likes it when their passports are collected after their arrival," she said. "[But] there are no problems for people who submit their passports because they have not committed any crimes on the territories of these countries."

Some travel agencies have gone even further, collecting their clients' passports right after the Russian border is crossed on their way to France or Italy, leaving the tourists with only copies of their documents for the duration of their travel, Izvestia reported Monday.

This way, the companies ensure their clients do not leave their group and journey in another direction.

The French consulate in St. Petersburg issues up to 30 or 40 visas a day for bus tours only, the paper said.

"It doesn't take long to check [the passports]," a woman at the consulate press service said. She asked not to be named.

"Travel agencies bring the passports in the evening and it takes only a few minutes," she added. "We just cross the names of the people who came back off our list."

The representative did not give any reason for the new rules.

"In the last four months of this year, we have [officially recorded] three people who have not come back," the representative said.

An Italian consulate representative said the passport checks were just a routine method of estimating the amount of illegal immigration. The checks are performed in a way that has very little effect on city tourist agencies.

"We do not check each individual in a group, but do it on a random basis," said Giuseppe Lacatena, head of the Italian consulate visa department. "We pick up a few people."

The consulate intends to review the data on illegal immigration within the next few weeks, he said Monday in a telephone interview.

"I'm saying this before we have analyzed the data, but [the situation] is not that bad," Lacatena added.

The St. Petersburg branch of the Foreign Ministry had no comment on the new rules.

"This is the first time I have heard of it," Viktor Lopatnikov, head of the branch, said Monday in a telephone interview. "They might have their own motivations of some sort."

Yury Vdovin, co-head of the local branch of human rights organization Citizen's Watch, said the rules could be a response to member countries of the Schengen Agreement - which creates a border-free zone between most European Union nations - deciding to monitor illegal immigration more closely.

"Some time ago European countries were arguing that our country [Russia] wouldn't open its borders for their citizens," Vdovin said Monday in a telephone interview. "Now it has and they have started facing certain problems themselves."

"I don't know how the problem of the illegal immigration should be solved, but it's clear that something should be done about it," he said. "This is a problem not only for the countries where the migrants go, but also for the illegal migrants themselves who live in terrible conditions with no work or social services."

"If tourists want to travel in a different direction to the one they originally choose as a tour, it's better to travel individually in the first place," Vdovin said.

Italian authorities are running a nationwide operation called Safe Summer that includes increased activity by the country's immigration services.

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