By Nikolaus von Twickel
Russia and 24 other European countries took a step toward a visa-free regime Friday by simplifying the process for businesspeople and waiving fees altogether for some travelers.
“This is one of the components of the long-term goal of a visa-free regime,” Mark Franco, head of the European Commission’s delegation to Russia, said at a news conference.
Friday’s change, which was approved at a Russian-EU summit in Sochi in May 2006, waives visa fees for members of official delegations, close relatives, students, disabled people, participants of exchange programs, some researchers, and children under 6, a statement from the European Commission’s Russia office said. The waiver also applies to people who need urgent medical treatment or want to visit an ill relative or attend the funeral of a close relative, it said.
For tourists, short-stay visas will not cost more than 35 euros ($48), although travelers who apply less than 72 hours before entry will have to pay 70 euros.
Businesspeople, reporters, truck drivers and others should find it easier to obtain visas. The number of documents needed to apply for visas has been reduced significantly, and the processing time has been shortened to a maximum of 10 working days.
The new regime applies to a total of 25 countries, including Russia and EU members that have not joined the Schengen zone. But it excludes Britain, Ireland and Denmark, which are currently negotiating similar bilateral agreements with Russia, a spokeswoman for the European Commission’s delegation said. Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, which are not in the European Union but are members of the Schengen zone, also have not negotiated a deal with Russia yet. Andrei Podelyshev, deputy head of the Foreign Ministry’s consular section, said at the news conference that Moscow was close to striking a deal with Denmark, but talks with Britain and Ireland had just begun.
While liberalization of visa procedures is welcome news for many Europeans and Russians, it will cause a problem for residents of the Kaliningrad exclave. Some residents had been issued free visas by Poland and Lithuania, but now they have to pay. Kaliningrad’s regional legislature has appealed to the Kremlin, Interfax reported Friday.
Also Friday, the Spanish Embassy announced that its consular service had outsourced the acceptance and initial processing of visa applications to the Moscow-based company VF Services.
News source: times.spb.ru
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