Russia has added a number of intrusive new questions to its already lengthy visa application forms, including requiring details of applicants’ Facebook and Twitter accounts, raising concerns that Britons will be deterred from visiting.
As well as any social media accounts, the embassy now asks for information about parents, bank accounts and children, whether they are travelling or not. The questions were introduced this week under a “miscellaneous information” section of the application, which already required details of every country visited in the last 10 years. It costs between £38.40 and £45.60 to acquire a visa for travel.
The online form asks applicants: “Do you have a social network account”, adding that “if the answer is positive, you have to indicate information of up to five social networks”.
It also asks for the applicant’s monthly income and planned expenditure while in the country, as well as details on any parents, living or deceased.
A spokesperson for the Russian embassy in London said the new form was introduced to “adopt the practices of our British counterparts when it comes to the whole range of questions that visa applicants need to answer” – suggesting Russian visitors must answer the same questions when visiting the UK.
“That meets the current security requirements and… ensures equal rights of both Russian and British nationals in preparing documents for obtaining UK and Russian visa respectively,” the embassy added.
A spokesperson for the Home Office was unable to confirm whether the UK asks the same of Russian nationals wishing to visit the UK.
Tour operators will be concerned that the additional requirements will further deter travellers from visiting Russia. The Foreign Office, whose website makes no reference to the new visa requirements, said there were around 150,000 visits to Russia made by British nationals in 2015. However, figures from the Russian visa service show that 87,863 visas were issued to Britons in 2015, a number which fell dramatically in 2016 to 42,524.
Cox and Kings runs a number of trips to Russia, including highlights of Moscow and St Petersburg and a longer exploration of the country’s Golden Ring.
Why you should visit Russia in 2017
Katie Cosstick, public relations manager at the tour operator, said Russia has been their best-selling tour for the last few years.
“[The visa application process] has always been very complex. When they announced [in November 2014] that everyone would have to go to London or Edinburgh to have their fingerprints take, we thought that would put people off but it didn’t make any difference to our tour numbers,” she said.
“If people want to go, they will go. It will just make them a bit wary of handing over that sort of data.
“For something like, how much you intend to spend – how will visitors know what is the right answer? What are the authorities looking for?
“Nobody seems to have information. The Foreign Office hasn’t changed its advice. We’re trying to get all the information together so we can advise our clients.”
Russia will next year host the World Cup, a tournament likely to raise the profile of some of the country’s tourism attractions, but also shine a spotlight on issues of hooliganism and homophobia.
Telegraph Travel included Russia in its list of 20 destinations to visit in 2017, in honour of the centenary of the 1917 revolutions.
Last month the US announced that consular officials are now allowed to ask for social media usernames going back five years as well as request email address and phone numbers.