All-time high at border
Never before have so many people crossed the Norwegian, Russian border in the north. The newly introduced visa-freedom for the inhabitants in the border area counts for part of the increase.
Cross-border contacts increase sharply over Europe’s northernmost border check-point, the Storskog, Borisoglebsk land border. 22,904 crossings where counted in August, up more than 4,000 compared with the same month last year, or twice as many as in August 2009.
Norway and Russia introduced visa-freedom for the inhabitants in a 30-kilomters zone on each side of the border this spring, the first such regime in a joint area between a Schengen member state and Russia. 615 of the border crossings made by Russian citizens were with ID-cards instead of visas, reads the statistics from the Norwegian police in charge of the border control. The police do not reveal how many Norwegians crossed the border under the new regime.
So far this year, a total of 153,570 border crossings where counted at the Storskog, Borisoglebsk. That is 32,000 more than the same period 2011.
Per Christian Jørgensen at Norway’s Consulate General in Murmansk feels the increased interest among Russians to travel abroad. He is Deputy Consul and handles visa-applications.
“We have issued a total of 14,518 visas until August 31,” he says. August itself was a bit down, but the trend over the year is more and more issued visas.
“60 percent of the visas so far this year are Pomor-visas,” explains Per Christian Jørgensen. Pomor-visa gives multiple entries to Norway and the Schengen area over a period of several years, and applicants can get such visa without holding a prior invitation from a Norwegian partner or travel agency.
The Consulate General has issued 474 border zone ID-cards. The current challenge is that people in the border towns, like Nikel and Zapolyarny, have to travel to the Consulate in Murmansk to apply for the permission to cross the border without visa. Murmansk is far away and Jørgensen at the Consulate’s visa department says to BarentsObserver that they hope to be able to open a local application desk in Zapolyarny soon in order to serve the people on-site.