Russian fury at US visa barriers

March 21, 2003

Russian academics angered by perceived discrimination by consular authorities in issuing visas for the US, have launched a campaign against what they dub American "cultural fascism".

The Russian American Public Visa Council, a group set up by aggrieved university lecturers in Moscow last month, plans to lobby embassy authorities on behalf of Russians denied visas to work or study in the US.

The group claims that 60,000 Russians, or one in four applicants, have been denied US visas in the past 18 months. It is concerned by the rejection of academics who have already spent time in the US and are now unable to retrieve valuable libraries or other research materials built up during earlier visits.

The Russians Are Leaving America scheme had been set up to help Russians tie up loose ends in the US, said council member Igor Suzdaltsev. The programme, to which the US embassy has yet to respond, guarantees the return to America of those granted US visas to collect their belongings.

"US policy amounts to consular war and in particular deals a heavy blow to Russian scientists who, having worked in the US for several years and having afterward being deprived of their visas, cannot bring their property, manuscripts or libraries back to Russia," said Mr Suzdaltsev, a social scientist who worked at New York's Institute of Natiology between 1995 and 2001.

His application to renew his visa was rejected by the US embassy in Moscow in 2001. He is waiting to hear the result of a reapplication so he can return to retrieve a 600-volume library and other possessions.

The council, which has 100 members, said that visa rejections by the US seemed to have increased at a time when US-Russian relations had vastly improved. It compared the US visa-rejection rate of 25 per cent unfavourably with that of European countries, which average about 3 per cent. The US embassy denied that Russian academics were being unfairly treated.

James Warlick, consul general, said: "It is true that the number of visas issued worldwide has, on average, diminished by 10 per cent since the September 11 attacks. The trend in Russia, however, is completely different. Last year, the number of visas issued to Russian citizens increased on the whole by 8 per cent. The number of visas issued to students and participants in international exchange programmes increased by 61 per cent. The number of visas issued to Russians, in all categories, is increasing."

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