MOSCOW - The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said Wednesday that it was surprised at the Russian Foreign Ministry's recent criticism of new, more stringent U.S. visa requirements.
According to the new rules, which the embassy posted on its Web site Friday, virtually anybody applying for a nonimmigrant visa anywhere in the world will be required to appear in person for an interview beginning Aug. 1.
The Russia Foreign Ministry lashed out at the changes Tuesday, calling them "regretful" and saying they will hamper contacts between the two countries. A spokesman said the ministry was not warned about the upcoming changes.
In reply to the criticism, the U.S. Embassy said the ministry had been aware of the changes "for some time" and that the criteria under which visas will be issued remain unchanged.
"There has been no change in the standards or criteria we apply in determining who receives a visa, and we routinely issue multi-entry visas to all qualified Russian applicants," the embassy said in a statement.
Previously, consular officers decided on a case-by-case basis whether an application required an interview. The increased workload means people will have to wait six to eight weeks for a visa, instead of one or two weeks.
The U.S. Embassy emphasized that the new procedures apply worldwide ad said they "reflect our concern for ensuring the safety of U.S. residents and visitors alike." It said the number of U.S. visas issued to Russian travelers rose by 8 percent last year and has not fallen since.