Limited interest for visa-free border crossings
Only 0,7 percent of the population in the Russian border areas to Norway have applied for the ID-card permitting them visa-free border-crossings. Among Norwegians, the interest is much higher.
One month after introducing visa-freedom for residents in the border areas, only 288 of the 40.000 inhabitants in Pechenga region have applied for the ID-card. That counts for 0,7 percent of the population.
The moderate interest among Russian border citizens is in sharp contrast to the political focus the visa-freedom deal got when entering force in late May.
“Today we have taken a big step in the right direction, towards total visa freedom,” Russian ambassador to Norway, Vyacheslav Pavlovsky, told BarentsObserver when the visa-freedom was introduced in late May. Norway’s Foreign Minister said: “We are witnessing a historical event today”…(and) … “The results from this border will have influence on the rest of Europe.”
The Norwegian Consulate General in Murmansk received applications from a temporary office in Zapolyarny the first few days after the deal entered force. This office is now closed and locals in the Russian border area have to travel all the way to Murmansk to apply for the Norwegian ID-card.
“We received 134 applications the first period in Zapolyarny,” says head of the visa-section Lars-Georg Fordal to BarentsObserver. “We are awaiting a go-ahead from Russian authorities to re-open for receiving applications in the border zone,” Fordal informs.
Driving to Murmansk and back takes a full day, and Norway’s visa-office in Murmansk is only open when most people are at work. Secondly, when first driving to Murmansk, people prefer to apply for a Schengen visa valid for most of Europe instead of the border-zone card valid for a 30 kilometer zone in Norway’s remote northeastern corner.
Norwegians, on the other side, don’t have to drive far to apply for border zone permit. The Russian Consulate General is located downtown Kirkenes, a few minutes’ drive for most of the 10.000 citizens in question for visa-free travel to Russia. “We have issued 296 border zone permits and have another 80 applications at the desk right now, says 3. secretary Igor Lapitshkin at the Consulate General to BarentsObserver.
That counts for 4 percent of the population, or five times more than on the Russian side, population taken into account.