Russia adopts new visa regulations

A new Russian government regulation requires foreign religious workers - including LDS missionaries - to leave the country four times a year to renew their visas.

While most foreigners in Russia are permitted to remain for a year without leaving the country, religious workers are now being told that they must go to a Russian embassy or consulate abroad every 90 days to renew their visas. (A visa is a stamp or endorsement on a passport required for visitors to enter or stay in a country.)Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve who oversees the Church's efforts in Russia said: "Almost all international organizations, including religious organizations, encounter visa difficulties from time to time. Most of these affecting the Church are satisfactorily resolved. Because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is officially recognized in Russia as a centralized religion, we are confident that we will be able to work through any concerns with visas. As in the past, we will continue to cooperate with government officials in Russia."

Recognition of the Church as a centralized religion came last May when a certificate of registration was signed in Moscow, allowing the Church to continue its humanitarian and missionary efforts in the country and to provide meeting places for its members.

Currently, the Church has some 800 missionaries serving in seven missions in Russia. The missions are Russia Moscow, Russia Moscow South, Russia Novosibirsk, Russia Rostov, Russia Samara, Russia St. Petersburg and Russia Yekaterinburg.

Russia came under international criticism last year for a law that placed limits on foreign religious groups, and the latest regulation could further complicate the work of missionaries and churches that come from abroad, the Associated Press reported Aug. 6. The news agency also reported that some see the new regulation as an outgrowth of last year's law on religion. Foreign religious groups, including LDS missionaries and many other Christian denominations from the United States, began going into Russia in 1991 after the Soviet breakup ended many communist-era restrictions.

From time to time, LDS missionaries and representatives of other religious groups have been required to leave Russia to renew visas. At times, they were required to leave every three months, or four times a year as under the current directive, and at other times, they had to leave just once or twice a year to renew visas.

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