Restrictions eased for FSU tourists

Following months of petitioning by citizens of the Former Soviet Union, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On announced Monday that he was easing restrictions on tourists visas for visitors from the FSU. Bar-On made the announcement at the Knesset's Immigration and Absorption Committee, where dozens of immigrants from the FSU stated their cases to MKs. Under the new guidelines, visas will be granted for a period of ten years, replacing the current one year visas. Guidelines for granting visas will be standardized and a single form will replace the dozens of local forms that are currently used. People will be able to apply on-line rather than appear in person at the Israeli embassies. Also, a requirement that tourists leave a cash sum as a "guarantee" that they leave the country at the expected date will only be applied to tourists who were problematic in the past. "It was time to change the way we were treating these tourists. The new regulations are more tolerant," Bar-On told The Jerusalem Post."We made our changes based on the numerous complaints we heard." Immigrants from FSU countries now comprise nearly 25 percent of Israel's population, said Bar-On, yet they still had the some of the harshest laws for tourist visas. "With their growing immigrant population comes an increased demand for tourists, namely their families and friends, to come visit them here in Israel," said Bar-On. "It was inappropriate that it was such a massive burden for a new immigrant's family to come visit." In the past, the Immigration Committee heard horror stories about tourists being asked for bribes and getting bounced from office to office before acquiring a visa. MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima), who represents the FSU immigrant community in the Knesset, congratulated Bar-On on the new regulations, but reminded him that there was more work to be done. "Every time I meet with immigrants from the Russian community I hear the same complaints of being treated unfairly," she said. "And in Russia some of the most vocal complaints are about the applications for visas to Israel. I heard stories of bribes, I heard stories of people driving days to their local embassies. These new changes are an excellent surprise."