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Moscow restrains visa-freedom potential for Pechenga

People in Zapolyarny can apply for a border-ID card granting them visa-free travel to the border areas on the Norwegian side. Very few take the trouble to drive all the way to Murmansk to deliver the application.

30 percent of population on Norwegian side is granted visa-freedom while only 3 percent in Pechenga has got the same rights.

Location

Russia’s Foreign Ministry continues to restrain Norway’s wish to open honorary consulate in the border town of Nikel. Lack of such consulate forces people in Nikel and neighboring Zapolyarny to drive all the way to Murmansk to deliver applications for the certificate granting visa-free border-crossings. That takes a day.

On Monday this week, Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende asked Sergey Lavrov to solve the issue. Without an approval from Moscow, Norway’s Consulate General in Murmansk can’t open the office. The honorary consulate issue now enters its third year without solution.

“We have issued a total of 1,314 certificates on the Russian side from the start until yesterday,” says Marit Egholm Jacobsen to BarentsObserver. She is head of the visa section at the Consulate General in Murmansk.

87 percent of the respondents in Pechenga said in an opinion poll made for BarentsObserver in 2009 a clear “yes” to the question about their will to cross the border to neighboring Kirkenes if visa-freedom was granted. 

In Kirkenes, locals can apply for the same certificate at Russia’s Consulate General. The difference is that the consulate is located where most people within the visa-free zone are living. Of the 10,000 inhabitants on the Norwegian side, more than 30 percent holds such certificate. Pechenga municipality on the Russian side has some 40,000 inhabitants. 

First Russian, Schengen visa-freedom
Visa-free travel for residents in the two border municipalities started in May 2012 and was the first opening for visa-freedom between a Schengen-country and Russia.

Marit Egholm Jacobsen confirms that they will be ready to receive applications in Nikel shortly after a final approval comes from the Russian Foreign Ministry. “Yes, we are quite ready; we have most things in place,” says Egholm Jacobsen.

Honorary consulate success in Arkhangelsk
Importance of local presence is clearly illustrated in Arkhangelsk, where Norway opened honorary consulate in 2010. The office also receives visa-applications on behalf of the Consulate General in Murmansk. 

“We handled 3,690 visas in 2013, up from 1,636 the year before,” says Andrey Shalyov to BarentsObserver. Shalyov is Norway’s Honorary Consul in Arkhangelsk. Last year’s doubling came after a sharp increase the year before also.

Murmansk people queue up for Norway
Last January, Norway opened a top-modern visa-service center in Murmansk. During the first year, applications for visas have increased by 26 percent, from 20,993 in 2012 to 26,413 last year. 97 percent of the issued visas were multi-entry visas, according to the statistics from the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration.

At Storskog-Borisoglebsk check-point, 320,000 border-crossings were counted in 2013.