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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

HIV Visa Requirement Resurfaces, in Principle

Foreign Ministry officials confirmed Wednesday that legislation requiring foreigners to present HIV test results for some types of visas is being implemented, but Russian consulates seem to be applying the requirement sporadically or not at all.

Passed on August 1, 1995, the legislation would require all foreigners who intend to stay in Russia for more than three months to present certification that they are HIV-negative before a visa could be issued.

After nearly a year in bureaucratic no-man's-land, the legislation is now being prodded to life -- at least officially. A senior official in the Foreign Ministry's consular department said consulates around the world were to implement the legislation as of May 20 -- the date on which Moscow embassies received a Foreign Ministry diplomatic note which informed them of the policy switchover.

According to the note, foreigners applying for relevant visas must supply a certificate filled out in Russian and in English that shows the test results, the test dates, an official stamp from the testing organization and the signatures of both the doctor and applicant, as well as information about the applicant's planned period of stay in Russia.

But a spokeswoman for the Russian Embassy in London said the regulation was not being implemented in practice. "I got several visas for my friends just on Friday and I didn't have to show any test results," said Tanya Malayan. "If we had received information from the Foreign Ministry about this we would have discussed it, and we haven't."

Although consular officials in the United States could not be reached, a recorded message for visa applicants in the Russian consulate in New York did not name an HIV-test certificate among paperwork required for visas.

Travel agents that regularly handle long-term Russian visa applications also said that none of their applicants had yet been turned down for failure to present HIV-test results.

"As yet we haven't been asked" to present test results, said Justin Redway, director of Overseas Business Travel, a London travel agency that processes about 10 visas per day for those planning to stay more than three months.

"It seems like it's too difficult to put into effect," said Maria Zaitseva of Andrew Consulting in Moscow, who also said her agency had experienced no visa refusals in connection with the requirement.

Foreign embassy representatives in Moscow are also scrambling to make sense of the requirement. "Details of how it will be enforced are still unclear and we are exploring urgently along with our partners in the Russian authorities seeking clarification," said British Embassy spokesman Ian Hay-Campbell.

The Foreign Ministry note sent to diplomatic missions makes no mention of when the requirement will actually be implemented, noted a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy.

"Any attempts to fully implement this policy are going to result in damage to Russia's national interests and to individuals trying to work, study, or travel here for extended periods of time. No one is helped by this law," said Kevin Gardner of the AESOP Center, a sexual health resource center.

Even among Health Ministry officials -- some of the most vocal supporters of the law -- reservations have surfaced. Mikhail Narkeyevich, head of the ministry's department on AIDS, spoke of the difficulties that testing presents. "You can check for it one day, and it'll appear the next, so the effectiveness of this law is very low."

Left without clear guidelines on implementation procedures, consulates are basically on their own.

Laurie Stern, an American journalist working in St. Petersburg, said that she and her husband were denied a visa in March by the Russian consulate in Almaty, Kazakhstan, when they failed to provide HIV-test results. The visa was finally granted after a delay of four days for testing and application processing, Stern said.

"I think it's really stupid because the whole supposition that foreigners are the reason Russia has an AIDS problem is unfair to both foreigners and to people with AIDS," she said in a telephone interview.