No Chill in Demand for British Visas

MTAn employee checking documents submitted by applicants lining up at the British Embassy's visa center on Friday.
Despite recent tensions between Russia and Britain, the number of Russians requesting British visas has increased 25 percent since May of last year.

"There is a massive demand for British visas," said Anjoum Noorani, spokesman for the British Embassy.

This statistic stands in stark contrast to the chilled relationship between the countries, as Britain announced Monday that it was expelling four Russian diplomats as a result of the escalating conflict over the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, whom London has charged with the November murder of Alexander Litvinenko.

The foreign ministry responded by announcing the expulsion of four British diplomats on Thursday.

The resulting skirmish over officials' visas has apparently not dampened local enthusiasm for visiting Britain.

On average, the British Embassy receives 100 applications every hour. Noorani partially attributed the rise in visa applications to a price reduction in April, from 3,500 to 3,280 rubles.

"I'm so excited to see the palaces, the bridge, the tower, all the historical sites," said Galina Fradkova, who is going to visit friends in London.

Businessman Andrei Bilinkin, who is traveling to Britain with associates, said the conflict has not had any effect on his plans. "It's been business as usual."

Not all are convinced the conflict will have no impact on tourist travel.

The amount of rejected applications has risen since April, said Irina Tyurina, Russian Union of Travel Industry spokeswoman. It was not immediately clear whether the increase in rejections was greater than the growth in applications.

"The people most likely to have their applications rejected are retirees, bus tours, and people with no relatives in Russia," she said.

The atmosphere at the British visa application center did little to reflect the growing demand for visas when this reporter visited. The street in front of the center was deserted, and there was no line inside the office. Sparsely scattered applicants sat in the waiting area, holding their documents.

Noorani said this was due to seasonal ebbs and flows, as the number of visa applications tends to decline toward the end of July.

"Last week was a nightmare," said visa center employee Elvira Andreyeva, referring to the throngs of applicants. "July is our peak season, but as you can see it's starting to wind down."

In the meantime, Russians are not letting diplomatic tensions affect their travel plans.

"If what they said on the news is true, this shouldn't affect tourists," said Oksana Romanovich as she entered the center. "I hope not. I've been planning this trip for a long time."