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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Greece Puts Quota on Tourist Visas

Many Russians who planned to escape the cold, wet autumn to a sunny Greek island may have to reconsider. The Greek Embassy in Moscow has imposed a visa quota of 150 a day, which on average is fewer than half than throughout the past year.

To further complicate the visa application process, especially for those who live in faraway regions, the embassy now requires a personal interview for most travelers.

Embassy spokesman Spyridon Hatzaras said Tuesday the quota was introduced last week in part because the consular section is short staffed. "Five out of 12 people working for the consular section have left and technically we cannot deal with more than 150 applications a day," he said.

The main reason for the change, he said, is that Greece has been told to tighten its visa rules under the Schengen Agreement, which gives travelers the right to move freely between most European countries. The agreement was first formed in 1985, but Greece signed on only in 1992.

"We waited with implementing this procedure until the end of the [tourist] season, in order not to endanger it," Hatzaras said. "But now we have to."

Previously, travelers who bought package tours could get a group visa, easily arranged by a travel agency. Now, Hatzaras said, each member of such a tour is considered an individual tourist and has to go through the full application procedure, which includes an interview.

In the yearlong period ending Oct. 1, the embassy issued about 90,000 visas, he said. If the new quota is maintained, the number in the next year will be just under 40,000.

"My whole business is under threat now," said Viktor Zagrebin, director general of the Russky Kholidei tour operator. His top three trips are to Greece: cruises, beach holidays, and fur shopping tours.

After Zagrebin took clients to visa interviews Monday, he said he realized he might as well start looking for other destinations. Three of nine were refused, among them a 28-year-old married woman clerk. "They suspected her of being a potential prostitute," Zagrebin said. "There was nothing I could do."

"Our biggest problem is the people living in the regions," he said. "They will for sure not fly to Moscow for an interview, where they may or may not get a visa, then fly back home to, say, Norilsk and then do it all over again to be able to fly to Greece."

Irina Tyurina of the Russian Association of Tourist Agencies said tour operators complain that the changes were made without warning. "Thousands of tourists will have their holidays ruined," she said.

The Greek consul general met Tuesday with representatives of the Foreign Ministry, Hatzaras said. "He carried our message that we will try to make it easier for Russians to come to Greece by the time next tourist season starts."