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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

3-Day Visas on Track For Debut on Feb. 1

Life for European and Japanese tourists will get easier as of Feb. 1, with the introduction of fast-track, three-day visas, ministry officials confirmed Tuesday.

In a one-year experiment to increase tourist flow into the country, applicants will be able to order the 72-hour visas through selected tourist agencies at least two days in advance and collect them on arrival at six entry points.

Sheremetyevo Airport Terminal 2, St. Petersburg's Pulkovo international airport, the Bagrationovsk and Mamonovo border points on the Polish border in the Kaliningrad region, and the Brusnichnoye and Torfyanovka border points on the Finnish border in the Leningrad region will be ready to stamp the new visas on Feb. 1, Vladimir Kotenev, head of the Foreign Ministry's consular service department, said at a news conference Tuesday.

The new visas will be available only to citizens of Schengen countries plus Britain, Switzerland and Japan, as these provide the biggest tourist inflow from outside the former Soviet Union, said Kotenev. The visas will cost $35.

The ministry anticipated that these visas would be most popular in the summer, with people coming for weekends, said Natela Shengelia, head of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry's tourism department. She added that target clients are Germans traveling to Kaliningrad and Finns visiting the Leningrad region as well as tourists and businessmen coming to Moscow or St. Petersburg for a short stay.

Visas will not be issued to U.S. citizens because the tourism department thought few U.S. tourists would travel so far for just a three-day stay.

"American tourists rarely come for less than a week," said Shengelia.

Kotenev said the visas will be offered as part of tourist packages administered by a list of selected companies.

Shengelia said that to be selected the companies had to have worked with international tourists for more than three years, to have served more than 1,000 clients in the past year and to have no tax arrears or reprimands from the Foreign and Interior ministries, the Federal Border Service and Federal Security Service.

Under the new scheme, tourists must apply to one of the listed companies, which will in turn apply to the Foreign Ministry's consular service. A decision will be available within 24 hours. Visas will be paid for when applying to the tourist agency, not at the entry point. There will be no limitations on movement once the tourist has entered the country.

Kotenev said the six entry points are making final preparations for the new service. The current processing capacity stands at 400 people a day at Sheremetyevo-2, 100 in Pulkovo, 70 to 90 in Torfyanovka and Brusnichnoye, 60 in Mamonovo and 30 in Bagrationovsk. Kotenev said some will be working 24 hours, but did not specify which ones.

Kotenev said processing visas should not take more than a few minutes, but cautioned that work might be complicated at Sheremetyevo, which suffers from overcapacity.

Neither Kotenev nor Shengelia would estimate the approximate number of tourists that will be attracted by the new visas, but said the scheme would provide a definite boost for tourist companies, hotels and city budgets.

Tourist companies applauded the opportunity to increase tourist flows.

"This project is a necessity," said Alexander Sorokin, head of the visa department at Mir Aeroflota. "Many foreigners come for a short stay, for a business forum or a sports competition, and what they need is convenience and speed when getting a visa. This project will offer it."

Tatyana Muliko from St. Petersburg company Dyuim said: "It will be convenient for our partners and clients and will enlarge our business."

Kotenev said that after the scheme had run for a year, a decision would be taken whether to scrap it or expand it to more countries and regions.

The list of participating companies will not be added to during the experiment, but could be extended if the scheme proves feasible, Shengelia said.

The selected companies are Aerotour, Akademservis, Intelservis Center, Intercity Servis, Intourist, Kontinent Express, Mir Aeroflota and Niko Tour in Moscow; Dyuim, Europe Hotel, Fremad Russia Petersburg, Komintur, Kosmos-Limited, Neva, Nika, Nordic Travel, Nevsky Palas, Pulkovskaya, Russkiye Prostory and Talion in St. Petersburg; and Anyuta, Baltiiskoye Morskoye Agentstvo, Brizen, Intourist-Kaliningrad, Noktyurn, Otkrytiye Dveri Baltiki, Rus-Servis, Svena Tour and Universalstroi in Kaliningrad.