US Embassy in Moscow – Part III: Mandatory Travel to Western Europe or “Since when is Spain not a part of Western Europe?”

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American law requires that visitor visa applicants have ties to their home country that will ensure that they will return after a visit to the United States.  However, consular officers at the US Embassy in Moscow have recently reinstated another requirement for many first-time visa applicants: it requires them to travel to Western Europe first before it will issue a visa.   This policy is not a new one; it was in place in the early 2000s.  (In fact, I exchanged correspondence with the Consul General at that time, Jim Pettit, on this issue.)

During the boom times of the mid-2000s, that policy started to recede. But over the course of the past year, that policy has been re-instated, with travel to Europe being the dispositive factor.   One denied applicant recently was explicitly advised at her interview that if she goes to Europe for a visit, she could then re-apply and receive a visa.  Another applicant was denied because he had only visited Spain – considered a summer resort destination similar to Cyprus, Turkey, Egypt and Greece– and thus not a “first-tier” European country.

Undoubtedly, this reinstated policy is part of the reason for the dramatic increase in refusals by the Embassy.   What the Embassy does not seem to understand is that this factor is easily manipulable – this requirement is so well-known that many Russians with no interest in traveling to Western Europe do so just to obtain a US visa.  While I am sure that the travel industry in Europe is grateful to the Embassy for imposing such a requirement, the requirement has become little more than a hoop-jumping exercise.  This enables a consular officer to “check a box” in his list, rather than gauging the true intentions of an applicant in traveling to the United States.  Russian applicants – with good and not-so-good intentions – are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars traveling to Europe just so that they can qualify for an American visa.

Let us be clear: there is no such requirement in US immigration law.  Can you imagine a situation where the Russian government imposed such a requirement on US citizens seeking to travel to Russia?  There would not be many American tourists or businessmen travelling to Russia.

If you have been denied a visa because you have not traveled to Western Europe, please contact us.