US embassy in Russia suspends issuing non-immigrant visas

August 21, 2017 10:30 pm

The embassy building in (Photo by AP)

The US embassy in Moscow has announced that it will suspend issuing non-immigrant visas for nine days and will stop visa operations at the US consulates indefinitely in response to the Russian decision to cap embassy staff.
“All nonimmigrant visa operations across will be suspended on August 23. Operations will resume in Moscow on September 1; visa operations at the US consulates will remain suspended indefinitely,” the embassy said in a statement issued on Monday.
The embassy will also cancel all scheduled appointments for visa applicants, in retaliation for Russia-imposed restrictions on American embassy staff.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry last month ordered the US embassy to reduce its diplomatic presence to 455 diplomats and staff by September 1.
That means a drastic reduction of more than 755 diplomatic staff so that the size of the embassy would match the size of Russia’s mission in the US. The move came after the US Congress unanimously passed new sanctions on Russia.
“Russia’s decision to reduce the ’ diplomatic presence here calls into question Russia’s seriousness about pursuing better relations,” the US embassy statement said.
In addition to the embassy in Moscow, is also maintaining three consulates in Saint Petersburg, Yekaterinburg in the Urals and Vladivostok. Now US visa seekers have to travel to Moscow for the application process because visa operations at the US consulates have been suspended.
The US embassy in Moscow will also not issue visas to citizens of Belarus – a country that does not have an American diplomatic mission. 
“Capacity for interviews in the future will be greatly reduced because we have had to greatly reduce our staffing levels to comply with the Russian government’s requirement,” it said. “We will operate at reduced capacity for as long as our staffing levels are reduced.”
Days after Vladimir Putin ordered the American diplomats to leave the country, US President Donald Trump thanked the Russian president, arguing the United States was “trying to cut down [its] payroll.”
“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll … I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump told reporters earlier this month.

US President Donald Trump (right) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

However, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson criticized the Russian decision to expel diplomats, saying that “this had created serious mistrust,” and vowed that the United States would respond to Moscow’s decision.  
US intelligence agencies have accused Russia of operating a series of high-profile cyber attacks to change the outcome of the November 8 presidential election in favor of Trump.
A special counsel, former FBI director Robert Mueller, as well as several congressional committees are investigating whether the Russian government coordinated with Trump’s associates during the 2016 campaign and transition. Trump denies any collusion by his campaign with Moscow.
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