Moscow has blasted the United States after Washington added Russian nationals seeking a US visa to a list of ‘homeless nationals’ who can apply for immigrant visas in third countries. The move by the US allows Russians to apply for a US visa in Warsaw, Poland instead of their home country.
The decision to add Russian citizens to a list of homeless nationals who can apply for a visa in third countries comes after the US Embassy in Moscow ceased processing visa applications back in May after Russia banned the hiring of embassy staff.
The US Department of State (DoS) lists ‘homeless nationals’ as those with applicants from countries in which the United States has no consular representation, or where consular staff are unable to issue US visas amid political problems and security concerns.
Russia joins growing list
Russia became the 10th nation added to the list of ‘homeless nationals’, joining Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen.
A spokesperson for the US Department of State said: “The Russian government's decision to prohibit the United States from retaining, hiring or contracting Russian or third-country staff severely impacts our ability to provide consular services.”
“The extremely limited number of consular staff in Russia at this time does not allow us to provide routine visa or US citizen services,” the DoS spokesperson added.
However, Moscow has blamed Washington for the current situation. Spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, said: “American diplomats have for many years been destroying the system of consular services in Russia. They have turned a technical procedure, a routine one for the 21st century, into a real hell.”
US-Russia relations continue to deteriorate
US-Russia relations were already at their lowest in the post-Cold War era, and the latest visa debacle only adds to growing tensions. Russia and the US are currently in dispute over the number of diplomats that can be posted in each other’s countries. Despite recent talks, officials from both countries failed to reach an agreement.
As relations continue to sour, Russia has added the US to a list of so-called ‘unfriendly’ countries, forcing the US to seek approval from the Russian government to employ Russian nationals. Meanwhile, the Russian visa quota for US nationals has been set to zero.
During the recent failed talks, Moscow had indicated that it was willing to lift all restrictions imposed on US nationals in recent years, while Washington demanded parity on diplomatic staff numbers and visa reciprocity.
Significant change for US visa applicants
The DoS spokesperson said: “We realize this is a significant change for US visa applicants in Russia, and we urge applicants not to travel to Warsaw before booking an appointment with the embassy there.”
“We considered a number of factors when making this decision, including proximity, availability of flights, convenience for applicants..., the prevalence of Russian speakers among our locally engaged personnel, and the availability of staff.”
However, Russian officials argued that Warsaw is 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) away from Moscow, and said that it was an unnecessary trip for its citizens to have to make.
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