There is an acute shortage of visa slots in consulates, and even the European countries themselves, ready to issue visas to Russian tourists, logically spawned new speculators. Which, using the “blind spots” in the legislation, began to “almost legally” extort money from Russian tourists who want to get to Europe.
As Kommersant stated in its investigation, the already difficult obtaining of Schengen visas has now become more complicated by “unofficial intermediaries”, and in fact, resellers who create bots for automatic registration in visa centers. In turn, the created bots, which are extremely difficult to trace, intercept the slots (the allocated time for processing the applicant for a visa) and resell such a record to real tourists for at least 4–7.5 thousand rubles.
“Writing such a program is not difficult and it will not even be illegal. The possibilities of the Russian authorities to combat this practice are limited, and the efforts of the consulates are not yet bearing fruit, ”Kommersant experts state. Special bots repeat the search task every minute, eventually reserving all the free slots on the website of the visa centers, which makes it very difficult for tourists to attempt to register themselves. Yulia Otvagina, Deputy Head of the Visa and Migration Department of Continent Express, stated this to the publication. The problem is especially relevant when applying to the French visa center in Moscow, says Marina Shirokova, managing partner of Visakhod. I don’t know how to deal with the same problem in the visa centers of Italy and Spain, adds Alina Protsenko, head of the Aeroclub visa support department.
At the same time, the services of resellers are actively offered in social networks, on specialized travel forums, as well as on ad sites like Avito. It is from there that prices are taken – in the regions from 4 thousand, in St. Petersburg – from 7.5 thousand. There is no need for them to hide – according to lawyers, Russian legislation does not provide for liability for creating bots if they “have no signs of a virus.” At the same time, visa centers and consulates are allegedly trying to deal with this, but their capabilities seem to be limited: they claim that they constantly introduce additional levels of user identification, but the bots are reconfigured.
So while experts give advice based on the sad reality. Some advise applying for a visa in regions where there is no such hype, or through VIP-lounges in visa centers, which costs more. As vice-president of the Russian Union of Travel Industry (PCT) Dmitry Gorin added, despite the bots, there is still a chance to get a visa on time, but you should take care of the paperwork in advance. “It is better to submit documents in advance – at least 6 months in advance. Visas are made within 45 days. Embassies are trying to issue documents on time.”
Another travel industry expert noted that the ideal option for overcoming difficulties for organized tourists would be accreditation of tour operators, which was abandoned: “There was a convenient working tool, but consulates did nothing received. So they came up with a feeder in the form of commercial intermediaries who pay them for each tourist, and even take themselves from above,” commented Alexan Mkrtchyan, general director of the Pink Elephant travel agency network. According to him, accreditation would solve the problem with making an appointment to submit documents. However, given how limited the Russian tourist flow is now, it is unlikely that the consulates are interested in this.
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