US Embassy in Moscow – Part II – Visas Issued for One Year instead of Two: Russians on Probation

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This is the second blog in an ongoing series on the negative changes in visa policy of the US Embassy in Moscow.

Russian citizens applying for B-1/B-2 (visitor) and certain work visas are entitled to two-year visas.  Department of State rules require, with rare exception, that consular officers in Russia issue to Russian applicants in these categories visas valid for two years.  The rare exception is justified only when a consular officer believes that an applicant’s personal circumstances may change in the next year.

That has not stopped the US Embassy in Moscow from implementing its own policy change.  Many first-time Russian applicants over the past year have been unpleasantly surprised to find out that they would receive one-year, “trial run” visas, instead of two-year visas which they requested.  In effect, the Embassy has placed these applicants on probation – not trusting them to comply with the terms of their visa.

For example, a woman applied to visit her US citizen daughter, but instead of being issued a two-year visa, as she requested, she received a one-year visa.  This, notwithstanding the fact that her daughter does not have any children and is not pregnant – thus, not having a need to spend substantial time in the US.  In addition, if she wanted to immigrate to the US through her daughter, she could easily do so under US laws.  Another applicant – a Russian middle-class manager at a well-known company with property and travels to Europe – was issued a one-year visa to visit a friend in the US instead of two years.

While the Embassy denies such policy change, it is readily apparent that it is issuing many first-time applicants one year visas.  This policy change not only violates Department of State rules, but creates additional work for consular officers; future visa processing delays because of the need to process more applications; and headaches for Russian applicants who need to renew their visas in a year and pay another application fee.  What is most troubling is that when pressed to explain the specific reason for issuing only a one-year visa to an applicant, the Embassy has refused to do so, citing to “consular discretion.”  This lack of transparency will be the subject of another blog.

Against this backdrop of a tightening visa regime for Russian applicants, the American and Russian governments recently announced that Americans and Russians will be eligible for three-year visas, and that such visas will be issued as a “general rule”.  Well, as we like to say, the proof is in the pudding, so we will see what the reality is over the coming months.

If you have been issued a one-year visa instead of a two-year visa, please contact us.