On August 21, 2017, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) announced the suspension of all U.S. nonimmigrant (temporary) visa (“NIV”) operations across Russia, effective August 23, 2017. Visa interviews will resume on a limited basis on September 1, 2017. This action arises from the Russian government’s cap on personnel at the U.S. Mission to Russia.
Starting September 1, 2017, nonimmigrant visa interviews will be conducted only at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Scheduled visa interviews at the U.S. consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok have been cancelled with instructions to reschedule at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. This situation will continue for the duration of the staffing level reduction.
Extended Appointment Waiting Periods
The visa appointment wait times in Russia as of this writing are as much as 85 days. This backlog is a recent development. These time frames far exceed standard appointment availability wait times, which are often just a few days, elsewhere in the world. With the suspension and limited interview capacity, the backlog is likely to continue to increase.
Interview Waiver Program Still Available
Not all nonimmigrant visa applicants require an in-person interview. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow will continue to process visas for applicants who do not require an interview. The Interview Waiver Program is available for visa renewals within the same class of visa within eleven months of visa expiration and subject to certain other limitations. Diplomats and government officials are also eligible for this program.
Individuals who fit within one of the Interview Waiver categories are not guaranteed visa processing without an interview. This is a discretionary benefit; interviews may still be required if there are issues that need to be addressed face-to-face.
Priority for Students in September
The suspended visa processing coincides with the start of classes at universities and colleges throughout the U.S. To accommodate this, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow plans to offer a block of student visa appointments in early September. While this is an important benefit to the students and their U.S. schools, it further limits appointments in other categories.
Residents of Belarus: No Visa Applications in Russia
Residents of Belarus are no longer eligibile to apply for U.S. visas in Russia. These individuals are being directed to apply at the U.S. Embassies in Warsaw, Poland; Kyiv, Ukraine; and Vilnius, Lithuania.
These developments will create a number of difficulties for U.S. businesses who rely on Russian nationals as employees or otherwise within their businesses. Each situation needs to be analyzed to determine whether a new visa is needed and, if so, whether the visa applicant is eligible to apply in a country other than Russia. However, in situations necessitating a visa application in Russia, companies must avoid being caught off-guard and unprepared for the extended appointment timeframes.
Options for special, expedited, treatment are very limited. Priority for visa appointments must be given to the United Nations, various international organizations and bilateral diplomatic missions. The Embassy will try to prioritize situations involving medical or family emergencies, but the ability to accommodate even these humanitarian requests is uncertain, as it is dependent on the availability of staffing.
From all appearances, the non-immigrant visa application process in Russia is largely grinding to a virtual halt. The duration of the staffing reduction is subject to the relationship between the U.S. and Russia and the related uncertainties within the political landscape. This is an issue to watch as such measures often have unexpected consequences which, in turn, can drive the timing of a resolution.