Letter : Moscow visa process is thorough but fair

As A new Foreign Office minister, I visited Moscow following recent media criticism of the visa operation at our embassy there ("Russia's new rich join the holiday jet set", 11 August). I came away satisfied that the work is carried out effectively and efficiently.

This year about 120,000 Russians will visit Britain, more than 10 times as many as during the 1980s. All of them need visas (as we do to visit Russia). Moscow is now our largest visa issuing post in the world, and our new visa premises, rebuilt at a cost of pounds 750,000, are designed to cope with the large numbers. For a short time earlier this summer, queues formed through the night outside the visa section, but that is no longer the case. With further computerisation and increased staff, I am confident we can keep to a minimum the time taken for applications to be submitted.

The 3 per cent of applicants refused by our embassy is well below our world-wide average of 7 per cent, and a small fraction of the 20 per cent refused by some Western embassies in Moscow. This shows we are thorough but fair. It is somewhat ironic that it is precisely this thoroughness that has attracted some of the criticism.

Liam Fox MP

Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London SW1