In February, Finland opened a state-of-the-art visa centre in St. Petersburg with 83 service counters and more than 200 employees. Oversized? Not at all; in April the numbers of applications for visa were sharply up with an increase of 65 percent.
As previously reported by BarentsObserver, the new Finnish visa centre in St. Petersburg is the largest in the world.
- If this pace continues, the number of visa applications handled in St. Petersburg alone will be more than one million in 2011, says Consul Tarvo Nieminen interviewed by Helsingin Sanomat.
In addition to St. Petersburg, Finland issues visas from its Embassy in Moscow and consulate departments in Petrozavodsk and Murmansk.
It is, however, not the staff of the Consulate General that man the new visa centre. Finland is outsourcing the work on receiving and delivering out visas. The centre is operated by the Indian company VFS, while the all decisions relating to visas still will be taken by the staff of the Consulate General.
Due to the sharp increase in applicants, the processing time for a visa in St. Petersburg has been extended to 11 to 12 days.
Longer processing period does not hamper the interest for cross-border travels. The speedy express train Allegro that started its operation between St. Petersburg and Helsinki before Christmas is attracting crowds of people.
Finnish railway will from next week double the daily services to four departures each way. All customs and border checks, including passport control are conducted onboard the train during the 3 ½ hours tour. Also, travellers can get tax-free refunds onboard while the train is on the Finnish side of the border.
The Allegro is a joint venture by Finnish Railways VR and RZD, i.e. Russian Railways.