In an effort to build ties between Russia and the U.S., this new visa program will allow both countries to implement ease of movement and economic cooperation between the largest groups of travelers, namely business travelers and tourists applying for tourist visas. It was estimated that in 2011, nearly 159,000 business and tourist visas were issued to Russian citizens wanting to visit the U.S. Similarly, over 75,000 U.S. citizens travelled to Russia annually, the majority of whom require Russian tourist visas.
The agreement was first announced in July 2011 and was finally ratified by the Russia Duma and signed by President Putin in July 2012. September 9, 2012 was the first day that the agreement was placed into full effect. According to the Department of state, the agreement between the U.S. and Russia includes the following key provisions (duplicated from the US Department of State):
- Three-year, multiple-entry visas will be issued as the standard “default” visa for U.S. citizens visiting Russia and Russian citizens visiting the United States;
- Diplomatic and official visa holders on temporary assignments will receive one-year, multiple-entry visas;
- The agreement streamlines the visa issuance process by reducing the documentation required. For example, the Russian government will no longer require U.S. citizens to provide formal, “registered” invitation letters when applying for Russian business visas or visas for private visits, although applicants seeking Russian tourist visas must continue to hold advance lodging reservations and arrangements with a tour operator;
- Both sides have committed to keeping standard visa processing times under 15 days, although the circumstances of individual cases may require additional processing; and
- The $100 issuance – or reciprocity – fee for Russians issued U.S. visas for business or tourism (visa types B1/B2) will decrease to $20.
It is evident that this new procedure cuts down dramatically the process for applying for business and tourist visas between both countries. However, the intents of the visas still remain in place and those applying for these visas must be aware that they still may need to demonstrate proper intent for the visa. Since this is such a new program it is still unclear how easy of a process actually passing the visa interviews will be, at least until more people have undergone use of the new system.
Those of Russian decent make up a rather noticeable portion of people living in Houston. No doubt this new program will have a large effect on families and businesses with ties between Russia and the U.S.