Under the terms of an agreement simplifying the U.S.-Russia bilateral visa program, American and Russian travelers for business or tourism are now eligible to receive three-year, multiple-entry visas authorizing stays for up to six consecutive months. The agreement took effect on September 9, 2012, meaning that U.S. and Russian citizens with business or tourist visas issued before that date are still subject to the terms and validity dates of the visas already in their possession.

The agreement removes previous restrictions on visa validity periods and entries. Previously, the visa validity period for Russian travelers for business or tourism was limited to two years. Further, under the former policy, U.S. travelers were limited to stays in Russia of up to 90 days within any given six-month period, with a maximum one-year visa validity period. Tourist visas to Russia previously limited travelers to two entries within a 30-day validity period.

Among other simplifications in the bilateral visa regime, the agreement eliminates the need for “exit visas” in the case of U.S. citizens who lose their passports while in Russia (the previous policy already allowed Russian citizens to depart the United States without an exit visa). The agreement also abolishes the requirement that visitors for business or tourism obtain a formal letter of invitation. However, Russian tourist visas still require evidence of advance accommodations. In addition, both countries have committed to reducing visitor visa processing times to 15 days, though individual cases may require additional processing depending on the circumstances. The United States has also reduced the visa reciprocity fee charged to Russians issued visas for business (B-1) or tourism (B-2) from $100 to $20. The $160 visa application fee is, however, still applicable. In addition, validity dates and fees for other visa types (for example, visas for students, workers, and journalists) have remained unchanged.

The expectation is that, by easing the lengthy and restrictive visa process, the agreement will facilitate travel, thereby enhancing business contacts between the two countries, improving tourism, and ultimately establishing stronger ties between Russia and the United States.

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Ogletree Deakins has one of the largest business immigration practices in the United States and provides a wide range of legal services for employers seeking temporary business visas and permanent residence on behalf of foreign national employees.

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