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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Visa Headache Looms for Expats

The Foreign Ministry has stopped issuing invitations for multi-entry visas as it transfers part of its visa duties to the Interior Ministry, in a move that threatens to create a headache for foreigners over the next few months.

The Foreign Ministry confirmed Thursday that it had stopped issuing invitations for multi-entry visas Tuesday. The Interior Ministry is to take over the job starting Nov. 1.

The change is ordered in a law on foreigners signed by President Vladimir Putin this summer. It directs the Interior Ministry's passport and visa department, or PVU, to start issuing invitations for all categories of visas at the start of November. Visas will continue to be issued by the Foreign Ministry.

Invitations for single-entry tourist and business visas are still being issued.

Foreigners who received invitations for multi-entry visas before Oct. 15 will not be affected by the change.

However, the shift is already creating a hassle for a number of businesses, and officials warned that delays could be expected when the Interior Ministry starts issuing invitations.

"We have already lost some of our business," said an official at the visa section of a major Moscow travel agency. She, like other people familiar with the visa issue, would only speak on condition of anonymity.

"What we expect is complete chaos and long lines in November," the official said. "But this is normal for any change in this country, and we know that at some stage things will settle down."

A source at the Russian Chamber of Commerce, which invites up to 10,000 foreigners to Russia each year, echoed fears that a visa problem was looming.

The problem is that the Foreign Ministry needed 21 days to issue an invitation, so even if the Interior Ministry works at the same pace, the first invitations might only be issued near the end of November.

"Unfortunately, it looks like the PVU is not ready for its new job," said the source at the Russian Chamber of Commerce.

"What is happening now is not yet a problem," said an executive at a large Moscow-based consulting company. "The real problem will start in November, when we will face a snowballing backlog of applications that the PVU won't be able to process. They do not have enough staff, training, equipment and room."

An Interior Ministry official declined to comment Thursday, saying his ministry and the Foreign Ministry planned to hold a news conference in a few days to address the issue.

About 7 million foreigners from countries other than the former republics of the Soviet Union visited Russia last year, according to the Economic Development and Trade Ministry. Some 1.5 million of those visitors came to Moscow, and 523,877 arrived on business trips, according to Moscow City Hall.

No official figures have been compiled for Moscow's expatriate community, but it is thought to number in the tens of thousands.

It was unclear Thursday what changes if any would be introduced to visa invitation procedures under the Interior Ministry. The Foreign Ministry charged 1,800 rubles ($60) for an invitation for multi-entry visas and 200 rubles to 800 rubles for single-entry visas.

The source at the Russian Chamber of Commerce said Interior Ministry officials had told him they would slash the prices for all invitations to 200 rubles and simplify the application forms.

"There will be difficulties at first, but they will be only temporary," he said.

"In other countries such services are performed by the police, and it is good that we are moving toward the international standard," he said. "I believe things will be more orderly now."

But the official at the travel agency said his experience with the Interior Ministry, which previously issued some private invitations, suggested that process might become more complicated.

"It took them a month, while the Foreign Ministry issued invitations in three to 21 days," he said. "We all preferred to work with the Foreign Ministry. I am not too happy with the change."