The US consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok have suspended all non-immigrant visa processes, and the Moscow embassy continues to operate at a reduced rate. The US government says this is solely due to restrictions on US diplomatic staff numbers imposed by Russia.
This means that Russian prospective students living in the north or east of Russia have to travel huge distances to attend non-immigrant visa interviews.
“On the phone they say that there is a very limited number of visa interview dates”
Deputy director of Russian education agency, Students International, Igor Mishurov revealed that the situation has slightly improved in September but significant hurdles remain.
“[The] call centre began working again, although we have to wait for a half an hour until they answer. On the phone they say that there is a very limited number of visa interview dates,” he said.
This, coupled with the nine hour flight time between the city of Vladivostok and Moscow, accentuates the difficulty of the situation.
“Luckily it happened just after the summer, not on the eve of the summer,” he admitted. “Because if it was in April or May, it would be suicide for us. End of August, more or less we survive.”
The US consular website said interviews would begin in Moscow from September 1, but Mishurov reported that interview registration only re-started on September 13.
“On the phone they don’t give any advice besides apply in other neighbouring countries (Latvia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan),” Mishurov added.
And Andrei Arsentiev, marketing director of the Moscow-based Intellectual education agency, said that forcing students from eastern Russia to fly to the capital for their visa interview will result in a drop of students travelling to the US.
This is at least partially because Russian students living in the west of the country are much more likely to study in Europe, rather than the US.
“The main market would be closer to the border – starting from Siberia and [east], because Moscow region, European region – they tend to go [to Europe] unless [they] are desperate to get into the US,” Arsentiev commented.
“Because to come to the UK is a three hour flight from Moscow, and to go to the US is a day’s trip.”
The US consular services in Russia currently advises those whose interviews were cancelled to call the Moscow embassy to re-schedule.
“[Non-immigrant visa] applicants who have their interviews cancelled should call the number below to reschedule their interview at the US embassy in Moscow for a later date,” the online statement reads.
Furthermore, a State Department spokesperson told The PIE News that the reduction of services is not a decision taken by the US, but a consequence of the Russian government requiring a reduction in US consular staff.
“Russia required us to drastically reduce personnel in our mission”
“Russia required us to drastically reduce personnel in our mission, and as a direct result we were forced to drastically scale back the level of all services provided by our embassy and consulates, including visa services,” the spokesperson said.
“It is unfortunate that we will no longer have the staff necessary to promptly meet the strong demand for visas among the Russian people”.
They added that the US government will continue to assess the possibility of providing visa interviews in the future.
“As we assess our operations at this new, reduced size, we will determine if we can resume limited visa interviews at the consulates in the future,” they said.
According to IIE’s Open Doors report, there were 5,444 Russian students studying in the US in 2015/16.
The PIE News asked the Russian government for comment on this story but has not received a reply at the time of publication.