The ETS organization, which administers the TOEFL English language exam, has banned Russian citizens from registering for the test.
This came to light after Russians found a warning on their profile on the TOEFL website: “To comply with Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), your access to TOEFL products and services is restricted.”
In addition, Russian citizens can no longer send the results of tests they have already taken to the universities they are applying to.
Upon subsequent inquiries for further clarification on the subject, ETS explained that due to US Treasury Department requirements, residents and citizens of the DPRK and Russia are not permitted to register for the exam or create an account. The restrictions affect not only Russian citizens but also foreigners permanently residing in the country.
In March, ETS and IELTS banned their exams in Russia and Belarus, but there was no TOEFL ban for Russians.
TOEFL and IELTS are the most sought-after English language exams for foreign university applicants. After the organizations left Russia, some students started traveling abroad to take the exams.
EU countries’ positions on tourist visa ban for Russians
European Union countries are split over whether to ban Russian tourists from visiting the bloc, a measure Kyiv has called for to punish Moscow for its war on Ukraine.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s president, first called for the travel ban in an August 8 interview with the Washinton Post newspaper, arguing that Russian ought to “live in their own world until they change their philosophy”.
His foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, later added that “Russians massively support the war, applaud the missile strikes on Ukrainian cities and the killing of Ukrainians. So let Russian tourists enjoy Russia.”
The Kremlin has branded this demand “irrational”, but EU foreign affairs ministers are scheduled to discuss the issue during an informal meeting in Prague on 30-31 August.
Among the EU countries that have already taken steps to reduce Russian tourism is Finland.
The Scandinavian country, which shares a land border with Russia, typically processes some 1,000 visa applications a day from its neighbour but has decided to reduce the number of visas it issues to Russian tourists to just 10% of that volume, so to about 100, from 1 September.
Since the EU has closed its airspace to Russian aircraft as part of its sanctions packages, Finland has seen an increase in transit with Russian tourists passing through it to reach other EU states on short-stay Schengen visas (90 days per 180-day period).
Finnish Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, has justified the move by saying it is “not fair that Russian citizens can enter Europe, the Schengen area, to do tourism (…) while Russia is killing people in Ukraine”.
Finland’s upcoming, unprecedented measure, “has little chance of being adopted by the EU,” Cyrille Bret of the Jacque Delors Institute, “but it should appeal to a large part of public opinion, beyond those countries that are historically suspicious of Russia”.
Finland and Estonia call for EU ban on tourist visas for Russians
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The 26 countries making up the Schengen free movement area — 22 EU states, Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Liechtenstein — received 3 million visa applications in 2021. Russians were the most numerous with 536,000 applications of which 3% were rejected.
Refusals, which can be appealed, must be justified (threat to the security, public order or international relations of one of the States).
Lithuania, which borders Belarus, an ally of Moscow, has since 10 March only issued visas to Russian and Belarus nationals on humanitarian ground or other reasons seen as international obligations.
The country’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, wrote in an op-ed for Politico published on Friday that “it’s a solution that has proven both effective and fair”, arguing it provides protection to people under threat.
But he noted that “problems remain”, flagging that many Russian tourists denied visas by Baltic member states, apply in another Schengen country to then travel to countries closest to Russia and Belarus, including Lithuania, for a spot of tourism.
Estonia has also deplored the fact that it could not deny entry “to persons holding a visa from another Schengen country”.
“Visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right,” Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said.
The Czech Republic, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency and has put the topic on the agenda of the next foreign ministers’ meeting, no longer issues visas to ordinary Russian citizens.
“In this period of Russian aggression, which the Kremlin is stepping up, there can be no question of tourism as usual for Russian citizens,” Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said.
Like Prague and the Baltic States, Poland has tightened its visa regime for Russians since the beginning of the offensive (total halt or for tourists only), with exceptions such as for humanitarian, study, or work reasons.
Denmark’s Foreign Minister, Jeppe Kofod, has also signalled that his country “will look at the possibility of introducing restrictions that will further reduce the number of Russian tourist visas” if EU member states fail to agree on a common position, in comments relayed by TV2 on Thursday.
Collective punishment policy
Global Rights Watch (GRW) condemns the EU decision to stop issuing Schengen visas for citizens of Russia and ban them from entering the bloc area as it is discriminating against citizens of Russia, considering it a collective punishment decision.