Norway softens visa-rules, Russia should follow
Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre harmonizes Norway’s visa-rules with Finland for citizens of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk regions. From today, every visa granted to first time applicants will be for multiple entry, valid one year.
“Russia should do the same for all Norwegians applying for tourists-visa,” says Rune Rafaelsen, head of the Barents Secretariat.
“The Government has a vision that the Norwegian, Russian border should be a bridge for cooperation between our two peoples,” says Jonas Gahr Støre.
“The Government has therefore decided that Norway should harmonize visa procedures with Finland in Murmansk. The new procedures will be implemented at the Consulate General immediately. For applicants living in in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk regions, the biggest change will be that they will get one-year multiple-entry visa the first time they apply for a visa to Norway.”
Both Finland and Norway will outsource the handling of visa-applications to an external private company later this autumn, as reported by BarentsObserver on Monday. The new visa-center will have some 45 employees and provide faster and better service.
Norway will also drop the demand of personal attendees when delivering applications. This has been a practice that especially people in the near-border region to Norway has criticized because it was both time-consuming and expensive to travel all the way to Murmansk to hand over the needed papers.
Finland has over the last few years issued far more visas in Murmansk than Norway. The number of border-crossing between the Kola Peninsula and Lapland is up 41 percent so far this year, twice as much as the increase over the Norwegian, Russian border in the north. Finland has already for years been practicing a more liberal visa regime than Norway.
Better than Finland
With today’s softened visa rules, Norway provides better service than Finland on both the processing time for a visa and the period a visa can be valid. While Finland only exceptionally issues visa valid more than one year, Norway can issue visas based on step-by-step system, first one year, then 3-years followed by a maximum of 5-years. Applicants for three or five years must document their need for such multiple-years entry visa.
The Norwegian Consulate General in Murmansk also provides faster service than Finland. An application will be processed in three to five working days.
Norway’s new visa regime does however only apply to applicants in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. Finland’s practice of issuing multiple-entry visa to all first time applicants apply to all Russian citizens, regardless if they are from Murmansk, Petrozavodsk or Vladivostok.
De jure discrimination in St. Petersburg
Visa applications delivered to Norway’s Honorary Consul in Arkhangelsk are today sent to St. Petersburg for processing. Such applicants will get one year valid visas, while a first time application delivered by a resident of St. Petersburg will be granted a single entry visa. Norway’s Consulate General in St. Petersburg is also handling visa applications from the Republic Karelia, also a part of the Barents Region where people only can obtain a single entry visa first time they apply for visa.
In addition, every applicant not living in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk regions will need an invitation from a tourist agency or a Norwegian partner before applying for the visa.
Russia should follow
Rune Rafaelsen, head of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, is one of the regional players that is most outspoken about the needs to soften the visa-regimes in order to boost cross-border contacts in the Barents Region. He welcomes the move by the Norwegian Government.
“This is an important step in the right direction. I agree with Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre that the ultimate goal is visa-freedom between Europe and Russia, but in the meantime such steps as taken today is important,” says Rune Rafaelsen.
He suggests a logical next step would be that Russia introduces the same regime for Norwegians. “Russia has recently signed a visa deal with the US on up to 3-years multiple entry visa for tourists. Moscow is also the party that is arguing loudest for scrapping the visa demand with EU. Now they can follow Norway’s example,” says Rafaelsen.
“Visa relief is important for strengthening people-to-people cooperation in the Barents Region.”
Tourist visa only valid for two entries
Russia does not issue visas to Norwegian citizens if the applicant cannot attach an invitation. It is possible to apply for a tourist visa if the tour arrangement has been pre-booked with confirmation that the entire trip is paid, including all hotels. But if a foreigner want to travel by their own, staying at their friends’ and without a pre-fixed travel schedule, it is far more difficult to get a visa.
Also, a tourist visa to Russia is not valid for more than two entries and a maximum of 30 days. A multiple entry visa can only be obtained by those who already have a partner in Russia that could issue an official invitation.
“We are now waiting for Russia to take the next step in visa-liberalization,” says Rune Rafaelsen.