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The EU has suspended its visa deal with Russia. Here’s what that means.
- What happened?
- What does suspending the visa deal change?
- Who will have to provide additional documents?
- Will visa processing times remain the same?
- What else will change for ordinary Russian travelers?
- Does the suspension of this agreement affect the issuance of long-term visas?
- Does the decision come into force immediately?
- Can countries in the Schengen zone bar entry to Russian citizens with visas issued by other states?
- Can individual countries further restrict the issuance of Schengen visas?
- Will additional visa restrictions be introduced in the future?
EU foreign ministers have agreed to completely suspend the bloc’s visa facilitation agreement with Russia. “This will significantly reduce the number of new visas issued by the EU member states. It's going to be more difficult, it's going to take longer,” said the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, when announcing the decision in Prague on Wednesday, August 31.
According to Borrell, the EU has seen a significant increase in border crossings from Russia into neighboring countries since mid-July. “This has become a security risk for these neighboring states,” he added.
Legal scholar Paul Kalinichenko told Meduza that in all likelihood, the agreement won’t be terminated — just suspended until there is a “change in circumstances.”
What does suspending the visa deal change?
Certain categories of Russian citizens will have to submit more documents justifying the purpose of their trip to the EU, Anton Imennov, a senior partner at the Russian law firm Pen & Paper, told Meduza. However, the suspension won’t change anything for ordinary Russian tourists — they will have to submit the same documents as before, as outlined in the Schengen Visa Code.
However, it’s important to note that the list of documents in the Visa Code is not exhaustive. Individual embassies and consulates may request different documents, so the tightening of visa restrictions may eventually lead to ordinary Russians having to provide additional paperwork.
Who will have to provide additional documents?
The categories of Russian citizens listed in Article 4 EU-Russia visa facilitation agreement. This list includes (but is not limited to):
- Pupils, students, post-graduate students, and accompanying teachers involved in exchange programs or other educational activities;
- Athletes participating in international sporting events;
- The close relatives of EU citizens;
- Drivers conducting transportation services.
In other words, categories of Russian citizens who used to fall under the visa agreement will now be subject to the rules of the Schengen Visa Code — just like ordinary Russians.
Notably, the Council of the European Union suspended facilitated visa procedures for certain categories of Russian citizens immediately after Moscow began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine back in February. The decision applied to members of official delegations; members of national and regional governments and parliaments, the Constitutional Court, and the Supreme Court; diplomats; and business people.
Will visa processing times remain the same?
No, visa processing will take longer for all of the aforementioned categories of Russian citizens, as well as ordinary tourists. That said, the wait time won’t be substantially longer.
According to the facilitated visa agreement, visa applications should be considered within 10 calendar days, but in some cases this period can be extended up to 30 days. Under the Schengen Visa Code, applications should be considered within 15 calendar days, but the period can be extended up to 45 calendar days.
What else will change for ordinary Russian travelers?
The visa fee will increase from 35 euros to 80 euros (at this writing, the exchange rate is on par with the U.S. dollar).
What’s more, Russian tourists whose passports are lost or stolen will no longer be able to leave the EU using documents issued by a Russian embassy or consulate. Now, each EU state will determine what documents are required for unrestricted departure.
Does the suspension of this agreement affect the issuance of long-term visas?
Not really. The visa facilitation agreement applied to the issuance of multiple-entry visas to a relatively small number of Russian nationals. Thus, certain “preferential categories” of Russian citizens, such as students and athletes, were issued multiple-entry visas that were valid for up to one year. Now, they will have to apply for multiple-entry visas in accordance with the Schengen Visa Code — like all other Russian nationals.
Does the decision come into force immediately?
No. For now, Russians can still apply for visas through the facilitated procedure.
Lawyer Vitaly Slepak told Meduza that since the decision was made at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers, the suspension will have to be confirmed by the Council of the European Union. According to the Council’s website, the next meeting involving the foreign ministers is scheduled for October 18. The issue shouldn’t be considered before then.
Can countries in the Schengen zone bar entry to Russian citizens with visas issued by other states?
The lawyers Meduza spoke to said this would be a direct violation of the Schengen Borders Code and Visa Code. These documents state that if all of the conditions for entry are met, the unified visa gives the right to stay in any of the states in the Schengen zone.
That said, the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) plan to develop a mechanism that would restrict entry to Russian nationals with EU Visas. Earlier, the Vice Chancellor of Estonia’s Interior Ministry, Veiko Komussaar, stated that EU laws allow for restrictions, including on entry from other Schengen countries. He cited pandemic travel bans as an example.
Lawyer Vitaly Slepak speculated that the Estonian government might try to invoke public security considerations, but he doubted that this argument could be considered valid — if only because in this case, checks are supposed to be individual.
So far, the Estonian authorities have only banned entry to Russian nationals who were issued Schengen visas by Estonia and want to enter the country through the Russian-Estonian border.
Can individual countries further restrict the issuance of Schengen visas?
Yes, this is already happening.
Belgium, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Czechia, and Estonia are no longer issuing visas to Russian tourists, but are still accepting visa applications on other grounds — mainly humanitarian ones.
Slovenia is still accepting visa applications from Russian citizens, but applicants must have an airline ticket to the country. Norway, which isn’t an EU member state, but is part of the Schengen area, has reduced the operations of its visa centers, increasing wait times to up to 45 days.
Finland has advocated for an EU-wide ban on issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens, in addition to introducing a number of its own restrictions. From September 1, Finnish visa centers in Russia will accept no more than 500 applications per day (down from 1,000). Moreover, 80 percent of visas issued will be for the purposes of work, study, and obtaining residence permits; the other 20 percent will be tourist visas.
At the same time, the Finnish government has promised to consider creating a humanitarian visa that would make it easier for civil society activists and journalists to move to Finland.
Will additional visa restrictions be introduced in the future?
This is entirely possible — especially at the national level.
While Germany and France have spoken out against stricter, pan-European restrictions, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, and Poland are calling for an EU-level ban. According to the Financial Times, these countries even threatened to introduce measures at the national level to decrease the number of Russian citizens crossing their borders, unless the EU takes collective action.
In addition, EU foreign ministers have instructed the European Commission to draw up proposals on how to deal with long-term visas that have already been issued to Russians. What these measures might be remains unknown.
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