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The story of 2018: “From Russia with visa difficulties” say agents

Russian education agents have voiced concerns over access to US B-category visas, including for group students, while biometric requirements for other destinations are hurting visa issuance for prospective students outside of three major cities.

Russian nationals must attend embassy appointments in either Moscow (above), St. Petersburg or Vladivostok to apply for a US visa. Photo: pxhere

Agents predicted Ireland will boom for short-term Russian language students for summer 2019

B 1 & 2 visas have been hard to apply for – almost impossible in many cases – agencies have told The PIE, as the number of US consulates and visa officers have declined significantly in 2018. Much of the blame has been laid on political tensions between the two nations – continuing a trend from 2017.

“Students were successful when choosing longer programs to qualify for the F-1 visa”

The visa category B is a business or tourism visa, used by short-term student visitors often attending language schools in the US.

“It is not the problem of visa refusals, but the mere registration for a visa application appointment at the consulate is – due to significant staff reductions,” Insight-Lingua managing director Anastassia Kohlweiss noted.

F1 visas applications are fine, Kohlweiss said, but B visas are difficult, and the numbers of junior groups the agency sends to the US dropped in 2018.

While other agencies like Travelworks reported its visa approval rates were not a problem (J-1 programs in the USA was 97%), its students have been choosing more intensive courses to qualify for these visas, Maksim Kostiuchenko, director of overseas relations said.

“Instead of the expected visa issuance collapse and recruitment number [reduction], the students still successfully applied for visas, choosing more intensive and longer language programs in order to qualify for the F-1 study visa,” Kostiuchenko told The PIE News.

A survey of 48 English USA member schools found that nearly half did not have Russian students in 2018.

Additionally, 12 members said they has seen the number of Russian students travel individually decrease in 2018, though three said numbers had increased.

One respondent to the survey noted that the slump had been “dramatic” and is equivalent to 30% of the enrolment.

“Russian agents are terribly frustrated. Canada is the beneficiary of this unfortunate situation,” they said.

However, 18 members said Russian student numbers stayed the same during 2018. A number of respondents to the survey indicated that they would like to see more students coming from Russia to study at their schools.

According to Igor Mishurov deputy director of Students International, destinations other than the US have been stable. The agency had sent at least 2,000 students abroad over the previous year, but it could have been “another 200-300 students in the US easily” if it weren’t for issues with B visas.

“Russians are terribly frustrated. Canada is the beneficiary of this unfortunate situation”

Students International has recognised some are choosing to go to Canada, he said, while others just cancel. “They are waiting for the good times,” Mishurov said.

If prospective students are not near Moscow, St. Petersburg and Vladivostok it is “complicated and expensive” to apply in person for visas, according to Kohlweiss, because only these consulates can process biometric visa requirements. Other visa centres cannot.

Governments forgot about size of the country when they introduced the requirements, Mishurov alleged.

“Every client now has to travel to the embassies… to get biometric,” he relayed, adding it will be “really really difficult to manage the big numbers next summer”.

However, if students can get to embassy appointments, getting biometric stamps is not a problem, Travelworks’ Kostiuchenko said.

“Canada remains the leading destination for the Russian-speaking HE market,” Kostiuchenko explained.

“Each year we have to be more and more flexible to find new ways to work”

A Canadian study visa costs just $75 CAD and a short visit to a visa office, he added.

Ireland is Travelworks’ clients preferred EU destination, according to Kostiuchenko, while Students International’s Mishurov predicted that Ireland will boom for short-term students from Russia during the summer in 2019. But this is not solely because of biometric visas not being required for the country, Kostiuchenko noted.

“Opening eight new VFS Global visa offices in different cities, instead of one in Moscow, launching a new direct flight between Moscow and Dublin, and not to forget the existing advantage of work permit for CIS students when going on a 25+ weeks language course, resulted in 3.2 times sales growth for Ireland,” he stated.

“It is not an easy time for the industry in Russia,” Mishurov highlighted, “but each year we have to be more and more flexible trying to find new ways to do it.”

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