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Far East is left without an electronic visa
From 2021, there will not be a single Far Eastern Federal District airport left for entry using a simplified mechanism
The Russian government has approved a list of border checkpoints through which it will be possible to cross the border with an electronic visa from January 1, 2021. It includes 29 border posts, but there is not a single Far Eastern airport - only the Pogranichy and Khasan railway points in the Primorsky Territory, as well as the sea in Vladivostok and Zarubino. Thus, the federal initiative, which was previously called one of the most successful in the Far Eastern Federal District, is terminated.
From January 1, a single electronic visa will work in Russia. It will be one-time, its validity is calculated for 16 days after entering Russia. A tourist will be able to cross the border within 60 calendar days after issuing such a visa. The authors of the bill, indicating these terms, justified them by the fact that the average stay of foreigners rarely exceeds ten days for tourism purposes, and more often it is no more than a week.
In accordance with the law, the list of border crossing points in which an electronic visa is valid is determined by a separate government decree. Such a decree was issued on October 23, 2020 under the number 2741-p. It has 29 points throughout the country: eight road, 14 air, two rail, four sea and one pedestrian checkpoints. The list includes Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, Krasnodar, Kazan, Samara, Krasnoyarsk, and not a single airport in the Far Eastern Federal District.
According to the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East, the e-visa applied to checkpoints: Vladivostok (Knevichi), Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (Elizovo), Blagoveshchensk (Ignatievo), Khabarovsk (Novy), Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (Khomutovo), Anadyr (Ugolny), Chita (Kadala) and Ulan-Ude (Baikal). In addition, in the Sakhalin Region, Primorsky and Kamchatka Territories, an electronic visa works at sea checkpoints. In Primorye there are also railway checkpoints "Pogranichny", "Khasan", "Makhalino", automobile checkpoints "Poltavka" and "Turiy Rog".
In accordance with the new law, electronic visas issued within separate "experimental" zones for entry through checkpoints in the Far East, to St. Petersburg and the Kaliningrad region, can be issued until December 31, 2020 (hereinafter they are replaced with a single electronic visa). At the same time, electronic visas to these "experimental" regions issued before December 31 of the year must be issued for a period of validity no later than February 3, 2021 inclusive.
Comparing the two lists of border crossings in which the "old" and "new" electronic visas are valid, it is easy to calculate: the Far East is almost completely removed from the action of this mechanism, from the entire macro-region there are only two seaports in the Primorsky Territory (Vladivostok and Zarubino), the railway point in Pogranichny and, probably, the most important thing - the railway border crossing at the border with the DPRK (Khasan).
The Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East noted this summer that the simplified procedure for arriving in the Far Eastern regions is popular with foreigners for tourist and business trips.
“Before the introduction of restrictive measures in connection with the threat of the spread of a new coronavirus infection and the closure of borders, foreign citizens managed to use e-visas more than 144,2 thousand times. Most often, residents of China, Japan and India arrived in the Far Eastern regions in this way. The most popular with them were Primorsky and Khabarovsk Territories, as well as Sakhalin, ”the department said.
DEMAND IS GROWING
The procedure for issuing electronic visas in the Far Eastern Federal District has been in effect since August 2017. At the beginning of this year, the list of countries whose citizens can visit the Far East under a simplified scheme expanded from 18 to 53, which once again proved the relevance of the mechanism.
"The mechanism has proven its relevance, and last year became a record - the number of issued electronic visas increased almost three times compared to 2018. The Far East has become even more open for foreign tourists, it has become much easier for investors to come," said Alexander Kozlov, head of the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East.
Dmitry Pavlov, head of the tourism development committee of the Primorsky regional branch of Opora Rossii, a member of the regional branch of the Russian Union of Travel Industry, told EastRussia that the request for e-visas does increase annually, but against the background of the total flow of foreigners (primarily from China) it is less than 10%. However, according to him, this business area is gradually adapting to this kind of service.
“Tourist business of Vladivostok traditionally deals with group reception. Chinese firms that send tourists are also considered. And often foreigners who apply for electronic visas do not apply to travel agencies and come on their own. But with the development of the tourist infrastructure, the business adapts to those who come with an electronic visa, providing services to them, too, ”noted Dmitry Pavlov.
Travel companies, in turn, point out that by no means all foreigners came with an e-visa: the simplest and cheapest document, according to the industry, was not really popular. Valentina Aseeva, a representative of the Russian Union of Travel Industry, believes that the new format for obtaining entry documents will only cause some inconvenience to fans of cruise travel.
“If we take the statistics on the Khabarovsk Territory, for example, we will see: not such a large percentage of tourists enter the region on an electronic visa. Those who make cruises on ships and take sightseeing tours - for them it can make a difference. And for the Far East as a whole, I think this will not hit the tourism industry so hard. There was no really great demand for an e-visa in the Far East: if someone comes to us, it is mainly tourists according to the lists, according to business visas, "Valentina Aseeva explained.
A practical assessment of travel companies makes one wonder whether the possible refusal of an e-visa will go unnoticed, or whether representatives of the service sector themselves ignore this document in order to offer clients more favorable options for issuing entry documents. Indeed, in the case of an e-visa, the tourist does not need the agency's mediation, which means that the “assistants” do not need to pay a commission. For the same reason, travel agencies may simply not take into account independent tourists and indicate their statistics on entry using an e-visa. And 144 thousand people is an impressive figure, and it should be taken into account.
A CHANCE FOR THE EAST
Recently, at a meeting of the government commission for the development of tourism in Russia, the possibility was discussed to include Sochi and Vladivostok in the list of border checkpoints through which it would be possible to cross the Russian border with an electronic visa. Proposals to supplement the list of checkpoints of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSB, the Ministry of Transport, Rosturizm, together with the interested executive authorities of the regions, must be submitted by February 1, 2021 - recall that at this time the existing "Far Eastern" e-visa will no longer be valid.
In Primorye and in other regions of the Far Eastern Federal District, they hope that the innovations in the federal law are not final and that additions may soon follow. Now the flow of tourists to the Far East is already decreasing against the backdrop of the pandemic, and an electronic visa can slightly improve the situation.
According to Valentina Neretina, head of the department for analytical work and organization of tourism activities of the Ministry of Culture of the Khabarovsk Territory, the flow of tourists, including business, in the Far Eastern Federal District has decreased due to coronavirus restrictions: if from 2017 to 2019, from 46 to 70 thousand entered the Khabarovsk Territory foreigners, then in 2020 for almost half a year the bar has not moved from 10 people.
“As for the approved list of border checkpoints in Russia, we know that it is not final. On this occasion, there was recently a separate meeting of the relevant government commission: the list can and probably will be expanded taking into account the epidemiological situation as well. We, a specialized agency in the Khabarovsk Territory, for our part also keep our finger on the pulse and will lobby for the inclusion of our transition points at the disposal of the Cabinet of Ministers, "Valentina Neretina emphasized.
Sakhalin also hopes to expand the list. They believe that an e-visa in the future will help improve the situation of the tourism industry in the region after the pandemic.
“It is too early to assess how the introduction of an electronic visa throughout Russia will directly affect the island region, due to the fact that the list of checkpoints specified in the order is not final. It will be supplemented with new border posts as they are equipped with the necessary technical equipment. Unfortunately, the ministry does not have information on the plans for technical re-equipment of the necessary equipment of checkpoints in the Sakhalin Oblast. In general, today, due to the pandemic, tourist visits to the Sakhalin Region are limited, there is no direct connection with other countries, and there are practically no foreign tourists either. The tourism industry in the region, as well as throughout the country, has suffered greatly and, according to experts, it will take more than two years for its recovery, ”commented Ivan Shevchenko, Leading Advisor to the Ministry of Tourism of the Sakhalin Region.
They will not refuse such a visa in the Amur Region. There, due to its specific geographic location (China is located across the river), the overwhelming majority of tourists are Chinese citizens from Heilongjiang province, for whom a visa-free regime operates. Tourists just go through customs and walk along the embankment in Blagoveshchensk. An electronic visa will bring visitors from other countries closer to such guests - although they will have to apply for a visa, it will be much easier and faster to do this than with a regular one.
If the regional authorities lobby and stand behind the opening of checkpoints at the airports of Sochi and Vladivostok, it will be easier for other subjects of the Far Eastern Federal District to walk along the so-called beaten track and restore the status quo. In the meantime, travel companies feel most profitable in this situation. Now they have one more motivation to offer foreign guests more expensive visa products - formally more reliable, since there was no talk of “editing” them.