Russians hoping to apply for an immigrant visa to the United States are now required to visit the US embassy in Warsaw, the State Department confirmed on Sunday, while blaming restrictions imposed by Moscow.
This development came amid unresolved tensions between the United States and Russia and head-to-head expulsions that previously led Moscow to limit the number of US diplomats in Russia.
Russia condemned the US visa decision and this drew a sharp retort from Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
US diplomats, she wrote on the Telegram platform, have long been “destroying” the consular service system in Russia, turning what should be routine technical proceedings “into hell”.
The State Department, for its part, blamed Moscow.
“The decision of the Russian government to ban the United States from retaining, hiring or recruiting Russian or third-country personnel seriously affects our ability to provide consular services,” said a spokesperson for the Department of State in a press release received by AFP. “The extremely limited number of consular staff in Russia at the present time does not allow us to provide routine US visa or citizen services.”
He added: “We realize this is a significant change for visa applicants”, and he warned them not to travel to Warsaw before making an appointment with the embassy there. .
The statement acknowledged that the move to Warsaw, which entered into force this month, was not an “ideal solution”.
He added: “We took into account a number of factors including proximity, flight availability, convenience for applicantsâ¦ the prevalence of Russian speakers among our locally recruited staff and staff availability.”
Warsaw is approximately 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from Moscow.
On the State Department website, Russia was added to a short list of countries where “the United States does not have consular representation or where political power or
the security situation is sufficiently precarious or uncertain “to prevent consular staff from processing immigrant visa applications.
Most of the countries on this list have poor or no direct relations with the United States, including Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. .
Amid a continuing dispute over how many diplomats each side can send to the other’s country, Russia has placed the United States on a list of “unfriendly” countries requiring approval to employ Russian nationals.
Russian nonimmigrant visa applicants can still apply at any U.S. embassy or consulate abroad as long as they are physically present in that country, according to the U.S. statement.
In the meantime, the American embassy in Moscow will only be able to process “diplomatic or official visas”.
Successive rounds of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions by the two countries have left embassies and consulates understaffed, devastating normal services.
It was a central topic of the talks two weeks ago during a visit to Russia by Victoria Nuland, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, but little progress was announced.