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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Foreigners Face a 10-Day Wait for New Visas

The minimum wait time for a new Russian visa has risen to 10 days at many embassies in Europe where expatriates previously could get them in just a day.

The consulates in Tallinn and Riga, once popular destinations for expats on visa runs, said Friday that U.S. and British citizens must now wait 10 days to receive any kind of visa.

"I'm in shock," said Paul Goncharoff, a Moscow-based U.S. businessman who learned of the change last week as he prepared to make what had become his annual trip to the Latvian capital for a new visa.

The consulates in Paris and Berlin have also slowed down processing to 10 days, according to visa agencies and foreign businessmen familiar with the situation. Repeated phone calls to the consulates were not answered Friday.

But the consulates in Madrid and London are apparently still offering one-day turnaround.

"Unfortunately, different consulates are doing it differently," said Tatyana Bondareva, general director of the Visa Delight agency.

The longer waiting times stem from an agreement between Russia and the European Union that was meant to simplify visa procedures and went into effect in June. "The agreement says consulates have up to 10 days to issue the visa," Bondareva said. "But some consulates have taken that to mean a set period of 10 days."

The agreement also has lengthened waits because of a provision that has changed the process for issuing invitations, Bondareva said. According to that provision, any Russian company can now write a letter of invitation, a document that has always been required for a foreigner to obtain a visa. Previously, such invitations could only be issued by the Federal Migration Service after the service got a request from an organization authorized to invite foreigners.

The problem, Bondareva said, is that consulates now have to do the work of verifying the facts on the letter of invitation, a task that was previously done by the migration service.

London and Madrid may be among the bright spots for expatriates in Europe. An employee who answered the phone at the Russian Embassy in Madrid said the consulate was still offering 24-hour and three-day processing there. At the London embassy, a man who answered the phone said most visas were taking about a week to process and asked a reporter to call back for more information. Nobody answered repeated phone calls afterward. But visitors to the expat web site said the embassy was still offering expedited processing.

Repeated phone calls were not answered Friday at the consulates in Berlin, Paris, Rome, Prague, Warsaw, New York and Washington. The consulates in Kiev, Vilnius and Brussels were closed Friday afternoon. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said requests for comment had to be submitted in writing. Questions sent by fax were not answered as of Sunday.

The EU-Russia visa agreement is the reason behind another change that has caused anxiety in the expat community: a new requirement that foreigners who enter Russia on multiple-entry business visas stay for no longer than 90 days at a time, and for no more than 180 days out of one year. In the past, such visas could be used to stay in Russia year-round.

Bondareva said the EU-Russia agreement had made things easier despite the longer waiting times.

"It has become simpler," she said. "The inviting party just writes a letter, in a certain format, saying that some person needs a visa, and he will get that visa. But maybe not as fast as he wants it."