The Standing Committee says in its remarks to the government’s White Paper on the High North that the ongoing minor upgrade of Norway’s only land-border checkpoint to Russia is not enough. “It is the Committee’s opinion that the planned construction of a brand new and top modern borderstation to meet the sharp increase in traffic over the border must start in 2013,” reads the remark posted on the Parliament’s portal.
The remark shows a Parliament more impatient than the government. The White Paper from the Foreign Ministry has a more relaxed view on the time-schedule for a new Storskog border station and reads “A pre-project is under development and the government will come back to the time of implementation.”
The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs continues:
“The Committee asks the government to make priority to biometric solutions for passport- and vehicle control for efficient border flow and to come to an agreement with Russian border authorities on a round-the-clock open border.”
It is the police that are in charge of immigration control at Norway’s external borders. Head of Police in Kirkenes, Hans Møllebakken, says to BarentsObserver that a decision is taken to equip Storskog with eGates for biometric control.
“No date is set, but it will come in the autumn 2012 or around New Year. There will be one for in-coming and out-going traffic. More eGates can’t be installed due to lack of space before the brand new border station is built,” says Hans Møllebakken.
The minor upgrades of Storskog will be completed by Tuesday next week, when additional passport control windows are ready. There are however still a lack of immigration officers to man the new desks. New officers will come later this year.
The agreement on visa-free travel for inhabitants in the Norwegian-Russian border area comes into force on May 29, a move that is believed to bring along another boost in the cross-border traffic.
Visa liberalization for Russians
The Parliament Committee also stresses to improve Norway’s current visa policy for Russian citizens.
“The Committee believes that Norway, like Finland, should be a driving force in the Schengen agreement to liberalize visa practices towards Russia. The current multi-visa regime practiced for citizens from Murmansk and Arkhangelsk Oblast (so-called Pomor-visa) can be expanded to include the entire Russia and with that help to support Norwegian tourism business to benefit from the rapidly growing Russian market.”