U.S. cuts visa service after Russian Federation orders staff reduced

Sameh Shoukry

It added that "visa operations will resume on a greatly reduced scale" on September 1, and available only at its Moscow embassies; matters regarding visas "will be suspended until further notice" at US consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

"Due to the Russian government-imposed cap on US diplomatic personnel in Russia, all nonimmigrant visa operations across Russia will be suspended on August 23", said the USA embassy in Russia.

Outside of the Russian capital, at the consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok, visa operations would remain suspended indefinitely, the U.S. Mission said in a statement.

The US visa freeze aims to "provoke dissatisfaction of our citizens with the activities of the Russian authorities", Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on the US decision.

"The American authors of these decisions have come up with another attempt to stir up discontent among Russian citizens about the actions of the Russian authorities".

For Russians, the announcement spells long delays with visas taking months longer to review and all future applications going through Moscow.

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"This scenario would be like all of America suddenly only having one office in Los Angeles to process (visa applications from) New York, Chicago, DC, Boston, and Miami".

Russians received more than 190,000 non-immigrant visas to enter the United States in the 2016 fiscal year, according to State Department data, an 18 percent increase over the prior year.

The vast majority of the more than 1,000 employees at the various USA diplomatic missions in Russian Federation, including the embassy in Moscow and the three consulates are local employees.

Putin ordered the cuts in diplomatic staff after legislation overwhelmingly passed by Congress that increased sanctions against Russian Federation and limited Trump's ability to lift penalties. He added that the US argument that its diplomatic workers can not issue the same number of visas with reduced staff disrespected the "capabilities and possibilities of the American diplomatic service".

The move comes just weeks after the Kremlin ordered the USA diplomatic mission in Russian Federation to reduce its staff to a maximum of 455 by September 1. Moscow has denied meddling in the election and Trump denies any campaign collusion.

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