The latest development in the diplomatic maneuvering between the United States and Russia came on August 21st, when the U.S. Embassy in Moscow announced that it will trim down the visa services it provides in Russia. The announcement was made in response to the Russian government’s recent reduction of the U.S. diplomatic staff in Moscow.

Russia also seized a warehouse and a resort complex in Moscow used by U.S. diplomatic personnel. Those moves by Russian officials were responses to new U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia – sanctions enacted in response to alleged Russian tampering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Nonimmigrant visas are issued to foreign nationals to enter the United States for temporary stays and include tourist, student, and work visas. The nonimmigrant work visas that will be affected are primarily L-1A and L-1B visas, H-1B visas, and E visas for intracompany transferees, skilled workers, and investors.

H-1B visas are offered to foreign workers in specialty occupations or jobs requiring “exceptional” skills or talents. L-1 visas allow U.S.-based employers to transfer executives, managers, or specialists to the U.S. for short-term business visits. E visas are granted to foreign citizens who desire to enter the U.S. for purposes linked to investment or trade.

WHAT ARE THE DETAILS OF THE U.S. EMBASSY’S ANNOUNCEMENT?

Details of the reduction of visa services to Russian visa applicants were disclosed in an August 21 “fact sheet” released by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, which states: “As a result of the Russian government’s personnel cap imposed on the U.S. Mission, all nonimmigrant visa (NIV) operations across Russia will be suspended beginning August 23, 2017.

Visa operations will resume on a greatly reduced scale. Beginning September 1, nonimmigrant visa interviews will be conducted only at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. NIV interviews at the U.S. Consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok are suspended until further notice.”

The visa interview at an embassy or a consulate is a legal requirement for almost all visa applicants, but exceptions can be made for diplomats, for official government travel, and – at the consular officer’s discretion – for a renewal within the same class of visa within one year of a visa’s expiration.

The consular officer may or may not require an interview for such a visa renewal. However, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow is continuing to process nonimmigrant visas without interviews for those applicants who qualify.

On its website, the embassy in Moscow reports that, “Capacity for interviews in the future will be greatly reduced because we have had to greatly reduce our staffing levels to comply with the Russian government’s requirement.” The website adds that, “The U.S. Embassy in Moscow and three consulates will continue to provide emergency and routine services to American citizens….”

WHAT HAPPENED PRIOR TO THE U.S. EMBASSY’S ANNOUNCEMENT?

How did all of this happen? In July, Congress voted to impose new sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea. President Trump signed off on those new sanctions early in August. The sanctions target parties that undermine U.S. cybersecurity, that invest substantially in Russia’s energy export pipelines, that conduct significant transactions with Russian defense and intelligence agencies, and that commit or assist in the commission of human rights abuses. Parties suspected of corruption inside the Russian government are also targeted. The sanctions include freezing assets, revoking visas, and a number of other punitive measures.

In response to the new sanctions, Russian officials have determined that the U.S. diplomatic corps in Russia cannot exceed the size of Russia’s own diplomatic corps – 455 – in the United States. That means the United States is relocating more than 700 diplomats and support personnel.

The U.S. Embassy’s announcement regarding reduced nonimmigrant visa services, which will make beleaguered U.S.-Russia relations even more embittered, means that Russian citizens who want to visit the U.S. as tourists, students, or as temporary workers may no longer apply at U.S. consulates in Russia outside of Moscow, and waiting periods will be lengthy.

According to the U.S. Department of State, the United States approved more than 182,000 nonimmigrant visas to Russian citizens in 2016, but now, with a substantial reduction in the embassy’s capacity to process visa applications, that number may drop dramatically and remain low for quite some time. “We will operate at reduced capacity for as long as our staffing levels are reduced,” the embassy reports on its website.

WHERE CAN VISA APPLICANTS TURN FOR HELP?

While no one can make the U.S. immigration system move faster, if you are applying for a U.S. nonimmigrant visa – from Russia or from any other nation – arrange as quickly as you can to speak with an experienced Las Vegas immigration attorney.

An experienced immigration lawyer in the United States can ensure that you meet all U.S. immigration requirements and will review your visa application to make certain that everything is accurate and complete – so that nothing on your end and no mistakes or misunderstandings unnecessarily delay or derail the processing of your visa application. Have some patience – every immigration procedure takes some time.

The United States admits international workers in a wide variety of jobs and job categories each year. Every foreign worker must have authorization to be employed in the United States. Some foreign nationals already have authorization for employment on the basis of their immigration status.

Others may need to apply individually; in most cases, an employer or prospective employer must file a work authorization petition on a prospective employee’s behalf. Every employment category entails different requirements and conditions, and any violation of a visa’s terms or conditions could result in a worker’s deportation or a denial of re-entry into the U.S.

If you are an employer who depends on nonimmigrant visas to bring foreign employees to the United States, you should be working with an experienced Las Vegas immigration attorney on a regular basis to help you keep up with the changes and stay in compliance with the law.

Whether you are a student in Vladivostok or an employer in Phoenix. Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, when you apply for a nonimmigrant U.S. visa, an experienced immigration lawyer’s advice and insights can be invaluable – and perhaps even more so in 2017, when the immigration rules seem to be changing unexpectedly and almost weekly.