On average, about 150,000 Russians a year will come to the United States as students, scholars, professional athletes, investors, or, more often than not, as visitors with tourism or business travel.
With a single stroke of the pen, President Biden and his team could close it all.
While the U.S. is looking for more leverage against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies in government and business, experts say the immigration system offers a juicy target.
“It’s a way of sealing Russia in “, Emilio Gonzalez, a former head of U.S. citizenship and immigration, told The Washington Times. “You can’t invade countries and then wait for trips to other countries on vacation. If they want to go on vacation, they have to go to North Korea. I heard that they have beautiful beaches. “
The State Department On Thursday, a small step was taken by moving to “restricting” visas that can be issued to 19 oligarchs and 47 of their relatives and associates.
But there are many other juicy goals that the Biden administration can pursue.
Tourist visas for senior military leaders or the Russian diplomatic corps may be restricted in the same way as oligarchs. Thousands of visas issued to students can be blocked, and those already in the U.S. can be revoked. So can visas for hundreds of Russian athletes or other highly qualified positions.
Hockey fans have filled social networking sites with discussions about what will happen from the playoffs of the National Hockey League in the event of the abolition of visas for Russian players.
The most attractive target for visa restrictions, Mr Gonzalez said, could be Russians seeking a US investor visa known as EB-5. The numbers are not large – about 60 people in 2019, the last full year before the coronavirus pandemic – but each had to earn half a million dollars and more investment.
“No ordinary Russian can get $ 1 million in cash without being connected to the government in any way,” he said. Gonzalez said.
The Biden administration has joined the global effort to push Russia from the international financial system, which raised the ruble. Major Western companies have also struck: Apple has dragged out its products, Disney has dragged out movies, and Ikea has closed stores.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are considering other steps. Support for the cessation of Russian oil purchases in the United States is growing, even as the Biden administration fears a political reaction from rising pump prices.
“I think we need to focus on their energy sector. I really do, ”said Sen. Josh Howley, a Republican from Missouri.
Several senators said they would like to see the U.S. target real estate owned by Russian oligarchs. The Russians are trying to sell, but due to sanctions can not find American buyers.
As for immigration, experts said there was no doubt that Mr. Biden had the right to block all new visas for Russian citizens and even revoke visas already issued.
But it is more likely to target specific groups, such as oligarchs or government officials.
Indeed, it was a course of action State Department used when imposing visa sanctions on countries that refuse to cooperate in deportation cases.
“These are very easy targets,” said Rosemary Jenks, vice president of NumbersUSA. “If it puts pressure on Putin, fine. If that’s not the case, you can restart the program when it’s over. “
The US is the world’s leading economy, a major tourist destination and definitely the best choice for international students. This gives the government options that are not available in some other countries.
Or, as Mr. Gonzalez saying, “We’re a big country, there are a lot of things in our backpack that we can use besides predators.”
As for temporary tourist visas, in 2019 the government issued more than 140,000 Russians for tourism or business, more than 5,000 to students and their families, and about 750 to top scientists, artists, athletes and their entourage.
The government has issued more than 500 family immigrant visas and nearly 300 work visas, including 59 obtained by wealthy investors under the EB-5 program.
Sir. Gonzalez said visa restrictions, in addition to sending a message, would have a very real effect of closing the “safety valve” for some good-connected Russians who may try to send their children to the US to study or get a job so they don’t go to war .
He is said the U.S. does not even need to revoke the permits.
The State Departmentannouncing this week a narrow set of sanctions against the oligarchs, suggested he was ready to do more.
“We will continue to add names to this visa restriction policy as long as people continue to support and destabilize the Kremlin,” said Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.