Wednesday, October 3, 2012

David's visa journey

Introduction

The changing Russian visa laws over the past several years have required missionaries to make tough decisions about continuing their work in Russia. Whether choosing to live in Russia only part of the time, leave for good, or get a different type of document, it all changes the way we do ministry.

For me, choosing to pursue a residency permit has been a long journey that has left me unable to spend so much time doing the same things I did before. It's affected me physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and has taken hours and hours of time. But for me, fighting to stay in Russia was what seemed right.

Now, we've come full circle as visa laws are being "relaxed" once again. Will missionaries start to come back? Is there work for full-time missionaries in Russia, or is that era ending?

Over and over again, getting certain documents processed has caused a chain of events that send me on wild goose chases, trying and trying and trying and trying until something works. Usually the solution ends up being the least convenient/practical. For example: we could only get a tourist visa for David and then just a few weeks later, the visa laws changed. Lack of organization, or just Murphy's Law working against us? I prefer to see it as God sending us through His refining fire.

We could have given birth in Russia, or gotten David's Russian citizenship in the U.S., or waited a few weeks  to get one of the new visas to Russia so he could be there longer without needing to exit. But we had our reasons, and God had His reasons, that it worked out this way.

Getting around Tallinn

I'm not staying in Old Town like last time, but the public transportation is pretty easy to navigate, as long as you can have someone point out where to get off. As a mother and child, we get to ride for free. Some countries will let an infant ride for free, but it's nice to feel taken care of as a mother, too.

Despite having so much forest area, things here are very hi-tech in terms of Internet and cellular service. You pay for things like parking with your cell phone. Lots of malls and shopping centers.

Consulate Hours (please note: Americans do not need to go here, you need to process your visa at a different location, see below)

The Russian Consulate is different from how I remember it. You walk in (to the visa section, not the Consular section for citizens) on the first floor, and the windows are all right there. There is a "kassa" where you pay and then there are a few other windows. I talked to one man who motioned at me through the glass...you DO still need to talk to them using a telephone receiver, but I'm more confident of my Russian, 5 years later!

I asked a few questions and he sent me to the Lady who checks visa applications. Maybe she's the same one from last time, I don't quite remember.

The answer is: Americans shouldn't show up in person anymore at the Consulate but should use a third party (like the Russian Consulates in the U.S.). The one appointed for Estonia is called the "Russian Visa Center" (Российский Визовый Центр).

At the center, I glanced at the girl's nametag and saw that she had a Russian name, so I asked if Russian or English were more comfortable for her. I don't speak Estonian and many people here have Russian roots, but it's probably better not to assume. She said Russian was okay.

They accepted everything with no problem after checking to make sure we could apply for one of the new 3-yr visas. Once again we got some information "too late": David could have gotten a homestay visa since the invitations are totally low-key now. I had searched for this information online but hadn't found it...turns out a link from a link on the Russian Embassy site (in Russian) will get you there. Oh well, hopefully he'll enjoy his 3-yr tourist status!

We paid there and got the receipt that we'll use to pick up the visa, at the same location. No need to set foot in the Consulate.

3-yr visas

Here is the Russian version: http://www.kdmid.ru/docs.aspx?lst=country_wiki&it=/Nota_%E2%84%96_46197kd_081111.aspx

If you go to the English site of the Russian Embassy in the U.S., click on Consular Section, and choose your type of visa, then you will see the updated requirements. For example, a homestay visa: http://www.russianembassy.org/Embassy_eng/Consulate/Homestay_visa.html

Main differences:
-good for three years
-holder can stay for six months at a time, but can reenter after exiting
-more expensive (currently $180)
-takes longer (up to 15 calendar days)
-still need an invitation, but might be more casual (check your visa type)
-the Consulates claim they have the right to ask for additional information like bank statements; not sure if that will be enforced at all


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