EU: visa travel rules with Russia

Russian citizens will now have a better opportunity to travel to the EU for European Union justice and interior ministers approved a deal with Moscow Thursday that will ease visa barriers for Russians from June 1.

The agreement also commits Russia to take back any illegal migrants who enter the EU Russia.

EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini said the agreement will ease travel bureaucracy for many EU and Russian citizens and will help authorities tackle illegal immigration more effectively.

The new rules will simplify procedures for short stay visas to EU countries and will set the price at EUR35 (US$48). Visa fees will be waived for some people such as close relatives of legal EU residents and citizens, students, and those who are disabled.

The new rules also ease paperwork for multiple-entry visas for students, journalists, business travelers and truck drivers. Decisions on issuing visas will also be sped up, and will have to be taken within 10 working days.

The ministers' approval Thursday was the last procedural hurdle before the new visa rules come into force.

Russia's lower house of parliament ratified the deal in February.

Agreeing to take back illegal migrants who enter the EU from Russia was a key condition set by the 27-nation EU for easing visa restrictions.

An agreement on the travel rules was reached in 2006 after years of tense talks amid often difficult Russia-EU relations, strained over energy, food imports and other issues.

Russia long has pushed for mutual visa-free travel with the EU nations, but the bloc has balked, fearing an influx of illegal migrants. Moscow has pledged to gradually help create conditions for a visa-free regime by tightening porous borders with other ex-Soviet nations.

There are currently around 500,000 Russian citizens living in the EU, according to EU statistics. About one third, or 178,000, live in Germany, followed by Estonia, Spain and Finland.

Some 1.8 million EU travel visas were issued in Russia in 2005, of a total number of 8.2 million EU visas issued worldwide.

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