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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Makes Getting Visas Easier

In a bid to increase the number of Russian tourists traveling to the United States, the U.S. Embassy has streamlined the visa issuance process for 12 selected Moscow travel agencies.

As of Friday, the 12 agencies can apply for visas directly at the embassy's consular department as opposed to sending documents by Federal Express. A special window has been created for the agencies at the embassy.

They will also be able to receive visas in three days rather than the usual five.

"We intend to make the process of applying for a visa to the United States as efficient and expeditious as possible," U.S. Consul General Jim Warlick told reporters Monday, adding, however, that the new scheme will not guarantee 100 percent issuance.

Sergei Shpilko, the president of the Russian Association of Tourist Agencies, said that the accredited agencies will double-check all visa applicants and prepare them for interviews at the embassy, if required. This would increase applicants' chances of receiving visas, he said.

However, tourists applying through other companies not accredited with the U.S. Embassy will not be discriminated against, Shpilko added.

"The new order does not change anything for the remaining companies," he said. "As for the tourists, for them it will be easier to get a visa through the participating companies."

Shpilko said that the new program will also help revive group tourism, which has declined considerably over the past few years due to strict visa procedures at the embassy, and in turn increase the number of tourists visiting the United States.

"Unfortunately, the United States is not even among the top 20 nations visited by Russian tourists, although it is a world leader in tourism," he said.

According to the State Statistics Committee, only 114,000 Russians visited the United States in 2000, 12 percent fewer than in 1999. The decline continued in 2001 with 87,400 Russians visiting the United States in the first nine months of the year, 1 percent down on the same period in 2000. Just 16,700 of them were tourists.

Warlick said that since Sept. 11, the number of applications for U.S. visas has dropped 30 percent, though numbers are now recovering.

"I expect there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of Russian citizens who will be able to take advantage of the ... program and we welcome those tourists back to New York City and the United States," Warlick said.

Shpilko would not forecast how many tourists would take advantage of the new program, but said that the accredited companies were hoping for a considerable increase.

He said the stereotype of it being difficult to get a visa at the U.S. Embassy had been formed over years and would therefore takes years to dispel.

Shpilko estimated that the first tourist groups would be ready to go to the United States in May.

The companies participating in the embassy's program are BSI, Intourist, Irene, KMP-Group, Lanta Tour-Voyage, Latina, Mosco Company, Neva, Roza Vetrov, Sodis, Tourinfo Group RFR and Valtex Travel.

Marina Kyzmina, vice president of Lanta Tour-Voyage, welcomed the program, saying that it will simplify her agency's work and will eventually rub off on its clients.

Russia issued its first 72-hour visas over the weekend. The Russkiye Prostory tourist agency in St. Petersburg welcomed three Swedish tourists on the new visas Saturday, company head Natalya Piletskaya said. The two women and one man were representatives of Nyman & Shultz, a Swedish tourist company, she said.

Piletskaya said the whole procedure of visa issuance at Pulkovo airport did not take more than 20 minutes and was praised by her Swedish clients.