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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Italy Changes Visa Rules for Russians

More than 1,500 Russian passports waiting for Italian visas were stranded in tourist agencies Thursday after the Italian Embassy introduced new requirements for tourist operators.

Under rules imposed Monday, tourist agencies working with the Italian Embassy must be members of either the Russian Association of Tourist Agencies or the Moscow Association of Tourist Agencies. They must also be registered with the International Air Transport Association and have a business relationship with Italian tourist agencies.

RATA and the Economic Development and Trade Ministry's tourism department called a news conference Thursday to say that the Italian Embassy was not accepting visa applications from agencies that did not comply with the requirements.

In the meantime, however, tourist agencies were given a reprieve after Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov appealed directly to visiting Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero to ease the requirements. As a result, the IATA requirement was suspended for three months as of Wednesday.

The Italian Embassy pledged Thursday that it will process all the applications in time and no travelers will have to spend their New Year vacations at home.

"Not only are we accepting visa applications as usual, but there's no backlog of visa applications at the embassy," an embassy official said.

However, Alexander Sorokin, deputy head of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry's tourism department, said tourist agencies are holding some 1,750 passports of travelers set to leave for Italy between Dec. 29 and Jan. 5, Interfax reported.

Tourist agencies said they are relieved about the relaxation of the requirements but that they now have to rush through their visa applications.

"There are so many passports suspended and only two days remaining to process them," RATA spokeswoman Irina Tyurina said.

"I don't know how they are going to do that; the situation is still critical, but we are hoping," she said.

The new requirements sent shock waves through tourist operators working with Italy.

According to Tyurina, 750 companies are RATA members, 117 are members of MATA and some 245 are registered with IATA. Of these companies, most do not operate in Italy. Many of those that do are not IATA members.

Even companies that were willing to join IATA would not have had enough time to do so in the two-week notice period given by the Italian Embassy, meaning many travelers could have been stranded at home.

The Italian Embassy official said that the new requirements were not intended to limit tourist agencies' access to the embassy or to reduce the flow of tourists to Italy. They were imposed to verify the reliability of tourist operators and to safeguard against terrorism, he said.

Lyubov Chistyakova, the commercial director of Mondo Tours, said her agency will apply to become an IATA member, but added that it was an absurd requirement and was unlikely to resolve problems with terrorism.

"A terrorist can travel though an IATA-member company," she said.

Chistyakova said that her agency had only a few passports suspended, and she said she hoped they would be processed in time.

Nelya Ionkina, the general director of Ital-Travel, said it was a positive development that the embassy was ready to cooperate, however slowly.

"This was a nerve-racking week and we all expended lots of adrenaline, but common sense has prevailed and all travelers should fly out on time," Ionkina said.