No more queueing on the way to Russia

There's both good and not so good news awaiting those heading for Russia. Let's start with the good bit: no more long queues at the Russian Consulate. Getting a Russian visa is now a time-saving and traveller-friendly procedure.

From now on, new Russian visa centres in London and Edinburgh will handle the initial visa applications, which will then be passed on to the Embassy for approval and will be afterwards returned to visa centre. Diplomatic and official passports will still be handled solely by the consulate.

The address of the new London Visa Centre is 15-17 Gee Street, London EC1V 3RD. Its state-of-the-art equipment enables all visa applications to be substantially streamlined and facilitated. "This is a very good and applicant-friendly centre, keeping waiting times to a minimum," said Andrei Bat-manov, head of the Russian Embassy Consular Section in the UK.

Indeed, thanks to the centre's up-to-date equipment, visitors can keep an eye on their short queue while seated in front of a plasma TV screen. The reception halls are fully adapted to the needs of disabled people.

UK citizens will have to pay a slightly higher processing fee (£75) for a single-entry, one-month Russian tourist visa. However, this increase was not a unilateral step, rather a reciprocal adjustment to the UK visa fee for Russians. UK visa services are also operated through visa centres based in Russia, instead of through the Embassy. The only difference left is that Russian applicants for a UK visa have to submit their biometric data, including digital photos and scanned fingerprints.

To meet this requirement, a would-be tourist has to come in person to the UK Embassy in Moscow or the Consulate General in St Petersburg or Yekaterinburg. For citizens of such a vast country as Russia, it often means long and costly travel to the visa centre and back home, where they still have to wait for their visas.

Yet these obstacles do not deter Russians from travelling to Great Britain, just as, until recently, long queues for Russian visas could hardly frighten off British tourists intent on going to Russia. According to the head of the Russian Embassy Consular Section in the UK, in 2007, the London Consulate issued about 115,000 Russian visas, with tourist visas accounting for 60pc of the total. The 2009 forecast assumes a decline in visa demand of only about 5,000.

But what about the not so good news? Like the other side of the moon, it is the same news about the new Russian visa centres opened in the UK. Indeed, it has long been on the agenda to ease substantially the visa regime between the two countries instead of establishing new visa centres. Russians believe that this solution is long overdue. For instance, Russia's experiment to offer unilateral visa-free entry to tens of thousands of British football fans travelling to Moscow in May 2008 to watch the all-English Champions' League final proved an unqualified success. Instead of a passport stamped with the Russian visa, supporters had to provide only a valid match ticket to enter the country. Everything went off without a hitch. Yet, so far, the precedent has not been taken up.

In his recent briefing to Russian journalists, the Russian Ambassador to the UK, Yuri Fedotov, was quite straight-forward: "I regard the new visa centre as a forced-choice response to the suspension of visa negotiations by the British side in summer 2007. Our top strategic priority today is to resume the talks on visa regime alleviation between the two countries." Thus, the ball is now in the British court. It is up to the United Kingdom to decide whether the two countries will keep their doors wide open for Russian and British tourists, students and business travellers. In other words, whether we will be free to visit each other whenever we want to, and without queues.

Please visit for more information about visa application requirements, types, terms and fees

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