Tamara Lastun received visa No. 20.000 issued by Norway in Murmansk this year. Photo: Alexey Filin
MURMANSK: Tamara Lastun got both champagne and cake when she came to pick up her new visa at the Norwegian Consulate General Friday morning. Her visa became No. 20.000 so far this year. Norway is now taking new measures to ease visa-applications.
- I like the Norwegian Christmas traditions, the friendliness of people in Kirkenes and the small houses, says Tamara Lastun. She was very surprised by the ceremonial reception she got when walking into Norway’s Consulate General in Murmansk Friday morning to pick up her new multi-entry visa. In addition to the three-year valid visa, she got a bottle of champagne and cake decorated with Norwegian and Russian flags.
The numbers of visas to Norway have increased substantially over the latest few years. Like some few other Schengen-members states, Norway is issuing multiple entry visas valid for up to five years.
Wants to boost cross-border contacts The staff at the Consulate General in Murmansk wants to make the visa service even easier in order to further boost Norwegian-Russian relations in the north.
- Tamara is a good example of cross-border contacts as she travels to Norway just to meet other people and get closer to the culture. Increased contacts mean better relations between our two countries, says Øyvind Nordsletten, Consul General when he gave the visa to Tamara.
Despite more visa applicants, the queues at Norway’s visa-desk in Murmansk are reduced. More and more of the applicants make their registrations on-line and then get a fixed time for delivering their papers. In return, the applicants get an SMS or e-mail when the visa is ready, normally within three working days.
Drops single-entry requirement Another much-appreciated measures introduced this winter is the retreat of the principle of only issuing a single-entry visa to Norway people first time applying for the so-called Pomor-visa. Today, the Consulate General says that if a person has been to Norway before they might get a multiple-entry visa to Norway directly. Especially applicants living far away from Murmansk have said this system has hampered their will to apply for visa.
This autumn has been a continual boom in border-crossings at the Russian, Norwegian border. In November, 18.151 border-crossings were counted at Storskog border stations, as reported by BarentsObserver earlier this week.
It is expected that by the year end, between 190.000 and 200.000 border-crossings will be counted at Russia’s only land border crossing point to Norway. That is up from 140.000 last year.
New border station Norway and Russia have agreed to study the possibilities to build a joint border crossing facility to replace the two countries exciting border stations today. Today’s border stations are in peak-hours crowded beyond capacity and the numbers of border-crossings in the years to come is expected to increase even faster than today.
Norway only Nordic Country without outsourcing of visa service Norway is today the only Nordic country that is not outsourcing any part of their visa application service to an external company any-place in Russia.
Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and 11 other European countries have all signed agreements with the private company VFS Global that operates nine visa service centers throughout Russia. The advantage of the visa service centers are both that they do most of the paper-handling work for the applicants and also that they are located in larger cities where the different countries don’t have embassies or consulate branch offices.
Long travel to Moscow The newest of the visa service centers opened its doors in Krasnoyarsk in late November, and new centers will open in Irkutsk, Khabarovsk and Vladivostok next year. In basic, a local citizen in Krasnoyarsk can today apply locally for a visa to for instance Sweden, while the same person must take the four hour flight to Moscow and go to the Norwegian embassy with the application if wishing to visit a friend somewhere in Norway.
Norwegian Embassy in Moscow. Photo: Thomas Nilsen
Finland has great success with its external visa service centre in St. Petersburg. With 83 service counters and more than 200 employees the centre is the largest in the world and expects to issue more than a million visas to Finland this year.
Outsourcing can come to Murmansk Finland is now planning to expend their network of external visa service centers to Murmansk.
- Yes, there are certain plans to outsource the visa handling, but it is too early to say when this will happen. Hopefully next year, because our premises are too small for the amount of clients we have nowadays, says Martti Ruokokoski, Finland’s Consul in Murmansk to BarentsObserver.
Norway considers Moscow and Murmansk Norway is considering same options for Murmansk and Moscow, but not for other places in Russia.
- Outsourcing is today under consideration for two of our Foreign Service missions in Russia, says Marte Lerberg Kopstad, Communication Adviser for Norway’s Foreign Minister to BarentsObserver.
In Murmansk, now date is set for a decision on possible outsourcing. In Moscow, the work is on its way.
- The Embassy in Moscow is working with outsourcing of receiving (visa) applications because they want to further develop the service to their customers, says Marte Lerberg Kopstad. She says outsourcing of visa-application services is not going to happen in St. Petersburg.