We, 4.10.2023

«Health visa» opens the Russians a window to the West

Loora-Elisabet Lomp
, Eesti uudiste päevatoimetaja
Russian influencer Valerie on Tallinn Town Hall Square.
Russian influencer Valerie on Tallinn Town Hall Square. Photo: Kuvatõmmis videost
  • Russian citizens with Schengen visas use Estonia as a transit country.
  • The Eastern neighbors come to Estonia for vacation with «health visas».
  • Private clinics assure that they do not issue «health visas».

Many Russian citizens with short- or long-term Schengen visas us Estonia as a transit country on their way to Europe, making use of the so-called “health visas”.

A Russian influencer named Valerie posted a Youtube video last week titled “How to get to Europe? Estonia, the Russians’ doorway to Europe”. According to her, she had to apply for a so-called “health visa” to a hotel in Estonia.

“Friends, we are in Europe!” Valerie rejoiced after reaching Estonia. “I shall describe briefly the border. The Russian border comes first and they require there the passports and documents confirming travel for treatment, which we received at the hotel.” She had allegedly received the invitation a few days before the vacation. “They asked in a funny way at the border: so you are sick, right?” she said on video.

Another Russian blogger Lyubov Ovchinnikova discusses in another video traveling to Estonia with a friend. “We do not lose hope. We filled in all documents, we have the QR code, a visa, insurance and an invitation. We have everything necessary and it has been checked,” Ovchinnikova reported in her June 2 video. She succeeded in reaching Estonia and announced it in her video: “We successfully crossed the Estonian border and will take a train to Tallinn.”

Liis Krigul, spokesperson of the Police and Border Guard Board, told Postimees that Russian citizens can cross the border if they have valid short- or long-term Schengen visas which can be used to visit Estonia or for transit.

“We thoroughly check all border crossers and conduct an interview, during which the documents, the purpose of the visit and the grounds for entering the European Union are examined,” said Krigul.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Postimees that the Estonian Embassy in Moscow would not issue visas for visiting spas.

Visa from a medical spa

Killu Maidla, CEO of the Estonian Hotels and Restaurants Association, said that while Russian tourists used to account for 10–12 percent of visitors of Estonia’s accommodation establishments annually, their share dropped to almost zero during the pandemic.

“I would not say that Russian tourists are essential, especially now that we are entering the high-demand season,” Maidla told Postimees. “Most Russian citizens have a Schengen visa and this allows them visiting Estonia as well as other countries. The Russian state has imposed additional restrictions on those crossing the border by land – it is allowed only for those who have some definite purpose, for example work, treatment or studies. These restrictions have not been established by the Estonian state. The Association of Hotels and Restaurants is aware that Estonia is often used as a transit country by Russian citizens – they move on from here – but there are also those who come here to spend their holidays.”

Maidla noted that if the reservation has been made at a medical spa (medical services can only be provided by a licensed company - ed.), the confirmation of booking medical services at such enterprise is probably valid for crossing the border.

Meresuu Spa was advertised as an opportunity to enter Estonia

On March 9, Postimees wrote about how the Russian Telegram channel is sharing loopholes for entering the European Union. One of them is to quickly obtain an Estonian visa and then officially enter the country. Another opportunity recommended by Telegram is to go to Europe via Estonia with a working visa or with an invitation.

“We have always had complicated relations with the Baltic states. On the other hand, Estonia has not stopped issuing visas. Employers are also ready to accept employees,” said a businessman on Telegram, who advertises the Meresuu Spa in Narva-Jõesuu, where invitations are issued to Russian citizens.

“The grounds for leaving Russia for Estonia valid for Russian citizens have not been amended (work, study, treatment, real estate and next of kin). The terms for Russian citizens for entering Estonia have also not changed. / --- / I cannot comment on further movements of Russian tourists from Meresuu SPA & Hotel,” said Igor Baranov, CEO of the spa.

“It is certainly not an invitation to visit, but a standard booking confirmation that hotels will send to customers after booking. Hotels are well aware of the need for sanctions against Russia, and many of them are clearly expressing their support to Ukraine: the Ukrainian flag is almost always seen among the flags at the hotels, and there are many war refugees staying in our establishments. Hotel staff is not police officers or border guards, but I believe that by showing our attitude we can keep people with different views away from our establishments. I also dare think that such people would rather choose another destination for spending their holidays.”

Kaido Ojaperv, Director General of Radisson Hotels, told Postimees that issuing visas or invitations to visit is not in the competence of a hotel.

Ivo Saarma, physician and the head of the Fertilitas private clinic, told Postimees that they had not treated Russian citizens. “There have been such requests, especially from St. Petersburg, but we have refused and always replied that we are ready to provide medical care, but no certificates or applications will be issued without seeing the patient first,” Saarma explained.

The Qvalitas private clinic also assured that they have not sent invitations to Russian citizens.

Eve Kaljusaar, Marketing and Communication Manager of Confido Medical Center, told Postimees that since the end of February Confido does not issue confirmation certificates to Russian citizens about having booked reception at their establishment. “This was a deliberate decision. The exception is a few patients who made their reservations before February and did not want to change the reception time later,” Kaljusaar explained.

Early on there were more applications to Confido, but in the last few weeks there have been only a few and these have been declined.

Visa on family grounds

Since March 10, it is no longer possible to submit visa applications at Estonian foreign representations in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Pskov and Minsk, and at visa centers of outside service providers in the Russian Federation and Belarus. As an exception, a citizen of the Russian Federation or Belarus whose child, grandchild, parent, grandparent or spouse is an Estonian citizen, may apply for a visa, as well as a person holding a residence permit or the right to reside in Estonia. But it includes persons who apply for a visa for humanitarian grounds (primarily funerals or illnesses) or for unavoidable medical reasons. All visas already issued are valid until their expiry date.

Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet (RE), currently acting Minister of the Interior, told Postimees that four so-called health visas have been issued to Russian citizens from March 10 until June 17; these are C- or short-term visas. In order to apply for a visa on medical grounds one has to submit documents confirming the possibility and necessity of providing treatment in Estonia. “At the same time, 1647 Schengen visas were issued for family reasons,” Laanet added.

“We have set out to isolate Russia both diplomatically and economically,” Laanet said. “There is no decision yet as to whether a next move would be further restriction of the entry of Russian citizens in Estonia, even if they have previously been issued with a valid visa, but it is worth discussing.”

It is not possible to tell the number of valid Schengen visas

A Schengen visa can be issued for single, double or multiple entry and is valid for a maximum of five years. The visa application can be submitted no more than six months before the beginning of the intended visit. It is therefore not possible to determine the number of visas currently in force.

In the period of January 1, 2022–June 20, 2022, the Estonian foreign representations have issued 9,364 Schengen visas to Russian citizens. In addition, other Schengen member states issue Schengen visas to Russian citizens.

As of yesterday, people with Russian citizenship have valid residence permits as follows:

• long-term residents permits – 76,732

• temporary residence permits – 10,008.

Source: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior


Tarmo Kruusimäe: Estonia has become a security loophole

Admitting people to Europe with shady visas issued on any suspicious pretext or due to exceptions is a clear risk in the current security situation, and we must honestly acknowledge: Estonia has become a security loophole. Since the Belarus-Poland border crisis , we became aware of the need to construct the border faster.

On February 14 this year, Isamaa Party submitted a bill to the Riigikogu submitted a bill on implementing adequate and effective measures to prevent anti-Estonian propaganda.

I would like to remind that Lithuania was able to make this a decision on July 8, 2020, and Latvia on June 11 of the same year. Instead of being the locomotive of the Baltics, Estonia has unfortunately become the brake. As for the banning of Russian propaganda channels, we also have a long way to go compared with Latvia.