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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ambassador Defends U.S. Visa Procedure

U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering on Tuesday defended his consulate's behavior toward Russian visa applicants after a national newspaper accused it of unacceptable rudeness.

Pickering, in a letter to Izvestia, said that the visa department coped as well as it could with a tide of applications and reviewed 550 visa applications a day.

"Our employees are stretched to the limit to conduct so many interviews a day," Pickering wrote.

The article in Izvestia on July 16 reflected a common complaint from Russian applicants that they are given short shrift by officials at Western embassies.

In April award-winning filmmaker Artur Aristakisyan was refused a visa to visit the San Francisco film festival. He was given leave to visit the United States only after his colleagues and the press kicked up a fuss.

The author of the Izvestia piece, Yevgenia Albats, said she and other visa seekers were treated so rudely that the scene reminded her of "a typical Soviet shop in the mid-1980s."

During the 18 months she spent in the United States, Albats wrote, she had "never heard a state official allow themselves to speak to people in that tone and manner used by the American consulate official."

Albats said that applicants were given only the briefest of opportunities to explain themselves and were asked probing personal questions about what they earned.

Pickering responded that the pressure of time only allowed very short interviews and "that is why attention has to be devoted to the most important facts at the interview for taking a decision in each concrete case."

Most visa applicants outside the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday said they were happy with the way they were treated, and said behavior depended entirely on the individual consular official they saw.

"They were very polite," said Zara Aivazagan, the director of a park in Krasnodar who was refused a visa because she did not have the right documentation. "I have no one to be offended with."

"He was extremely pleasant. He had all the manners, the 'pleases' and 'thank-yous' we've forgotten about all these years," said Ida, a St. Petersburg pensioner, of the man who interviewed her.

However, one young Muscovite said that she had been treated "terribly" and been refused a visa for a second time.

"They didn't even look at my invitation," said the woman, who identified herself only as Anna. "They didn't even give me a chance to speak." Anna blamed her good English and low salary on her refusal, saying the consular officials suspected her of wanting to emigrate.

Pickering said that about 80 percent of all applicants received visas. He said 15 to 20 percent of Russians visiting the United States overstay their visas and that it was difficult to track them down.