Why is the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw Still the Designated Post for Russian Nationals?

by Matthew R. Morley

On October 21, 2021, the State Department updated its Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) Section 9 FAM 504.4-8(E)(1), adding Russia to its list of so-called “homeless nationalities.” A “homeless nationality” is a country in which the United States has no consular representation or in which the political or security situation is tenuous or uncertain enough that the limited consular staff is not authorized to process immigrant visa (IV) applications. 9 FAM 504.4-8(E)(1).

Since Russian visa applicants can no longer have their IV applications processed inside Russia, and they are thus considered "homeless," the State Department has designated the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, the post for processing IV for Russians.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow’s website reflects this change as well and states, in part, that:

“Due to the suspension of immigrant visa services at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, the U.S. Department of State has designated the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw as the immigrant visa processing post for nationals and residents of Russia.”

The website refers Russian residents to the FAQs on visa processingin Warsaw, which directs the user to a page titled: “Frequently Asked Questions for Russian Immigrant Visas.”

The first question posed is the following:

“Why was Warsaw chosen for immigrant visas?”

The answer:

“In determining an alternate location to process Russian immigrant visa cases, we weighed a variety of factors, including proximity to Russia, space to accommodate additional applicants and personnel, cost and convenience to applicants, the prevalence of Russian speakers among the personnel, and sufficient staffing to adjudicate cases.”

At first blush it may seem like Warsaw is a good option. Warsaw is in close proximity to Russia and certainly has the space to accommodate additional applicants and personnel, has Russian speakers among their personnel, and sufficient staffing to adjudicate cases. However, other U.S. IV processing posts may have been (and still could be) a much better choice in terms of the cost and convenience to Russian applicants. The other factors are debatable and could be addressed with perhaps a little reorganization.

As the crow flies, Warsaw is in closer proximity to western Russia than other potential U.S. IV processing posts. However, the cost and convenience of actually getting to Warsaw for Russian applicants nowadays is prohibitive in most cases and has been prohibitive since before the State Department’s announcement on October 24, 2021. Clearly it has gotten even more prohibitive as a result of new sanctions brought on as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

One thing that hasn’t changed in recent times is that Russian nationals require a visa in order to get to Poland. The only problem is that it has been extremely difficult for Russians to actually obtain a visa to Poland since the beginning of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. This is due to the fact that the Polish government has suspended the issuance of standard national visas to Russian nationals and is only accepting visa applications from Russians who are immediate family members of Polish or EU nationals, holders of a Pole’s Card, students in Poland, Poland Business Harbor program participants, professional cargo drivers, and medical staff.

But it is true that it is possible for Russians to get visas to other Schengen countries and then travel to Poland. However, this too is rather challenging these days as the EU has closed its airspace for all Russian air carriers and Russia has reciprocated. So, no matter what type of Schengen visa Russians get, they cannot fly directly to Poland or any other Schengen country from Russia. This now involves taking the long way around with at least one stop, usually in Istanbul. It’s not exactly very cost-effective and convenient.

Additionally, there may be complications if one does not adhere to his or her itinerary and the information provided in the Schengen visa application. In at least one case that I am aware of, a Russian couple was issued a Schengen Greek visa but first entered the Schengen Area in Germany, where they were questioned and ultimately their Schengen visas were canceled and they were turned away (refused entry). Obviously they were unable to get to Poland and missed their IV interview appointment. They had to reschedule their appointment but now they will likely have issues getting another Schengen visa. 

Furthermore, it’s becoming more and more difficult for Russians to get Schengen visas in general. On February 25, 2022, the day after the Russian invasion, the European Commission partially suspended visa facilitation for certain Russian citizens, which had previously allowed for reduced fees and expedited processing. On May 5, 2022, the European Commission issued guidance on the above, which made it clear that there is now increased scrutiny on Schengen visa applications for Russians.

And yet another problem is the insufficient notice given of an IV interview appointment. A recent applicant was notified on April 22, 2022, of an IV appointment scheduled for May 18, 2022, leaving her less than a month to obtain a visa and make arrangements. It should also be noted that there are official public holidays in Russia in early May in which Schengen visa-issuing posts in Russia are not processing visas. Even without holidays, to actually get a Schengen visa now takes much longer than previously. After waiting an extended time for her immigrant visa, we had to cancel the IV appointment when it became clear she was not going to be able to make it to her appointment. The next available appointment is on October 17th, 2022.

It is time for the State Department to re-evaluate its list of factors and consider other posts that may not be in closer proximity to (western) Russia but are far less costly AND far more convenient to travel to for Russians. Some better options, in my humble opinion, might be countries like Kazakhstan, Armenia, Georgia, Israel, Serbia, United Arab Emirates or Turkey, specifically because they do not require visas for Russians and the possibility of direct flights to these locations.

About The Author

Matthew Morley is an American immigration lawyer based in Moscow, Russia. He can be reached at info@matthewmorley.com.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.