Even before the Trump administration ordered the Russian consulate in Seattle to close, getting a passport renewed was an ordeal that took months. Now, it becomes more complicated for thousands of Russians on the West Coast — and beyond.
Sasha Senderovich was not planning on picking up his Russian passport Monday. It had been ready for months, and he kept forgetting about it.
Then he heard the Trump administration had just ordered the Russian consulate in Seattle to close by April 2. The dual Russian-American citizen figured he better go right away.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said, talking by phone in the midafternoon as he was getting on a bus near the University of Washington, where he teaches Russian literature and Jewish studies, and heading to the consulate’s downtown office. He wasn’t sure if the consulate would already be closed.
Senderovich wasn’t the only one rushing to get there. Andrew Fomichev, a Microsoft software engineer who belongs to an email distribution list at the company of about 800 Russian-speakers, said he knew of others making their way to the consulate from the Eastside.
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Meanwhile, Russian immigrants up and down the West Coast, and beyond, were considering the closure’s impact on them.
After April, there will only be three Russian consulates left open across the country: in Houston, New York City and Washington, D.C. The Trump administration forced the only other West Coast consulate, in San Francisco, to close last year.
The closures hit an area of the country with sizable Russian populations. Washington has the fourth-largest number of Russian immigrants — 26,000, according to census data. About 40 percent of those live in King County.
California has nearly 90,000 Russian-born residents, many clustered around Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento.
Even with the Seattle consulate open, getting services has been a struggle, Fomichev said. To get a passport renewed, one had to first make an appointment to drop off documents. Online slots filled quickly, according to Fomichev, who heard of people waking up at 6 a.m. to get one.
And that was usually for an appointment several months away. Then one had to wait several more months before the passport was ready, and it had to be picked up in person.
“Now it becomes even more complicated,” Fomichev said. “People are frustrated.”
He said he hoped remaining consulates might start handling renewals online so that people didn’t have to travel thousands of miles, twice, to accomplish the task.
In California, Mark Farhad Yusupov, chair of the Russian Advisory Board, which provides input to the West Hollywood City Council on issues and services related to local Russians, said he suspected many people will turn to private companies that specialize in helping people get passports and visas.
Then, maybe, only one trip would be needed, though who knows where to — Houston or Washington, D.C., perhaps, if those consulates remain open. The situation was changing rapidly, Fomichev said, referring to the tit-for-tat actions by Russian and the United States.
“All normal business was paralyzed today. All we do is answer concerns,” said Vadim Pechersky, executive director of one such private company in West Hollywood, the Russian Documentation Center.
He said the Seattle consulate’s closure will be particularly hard for people with large families who now have to travel to Houston or the East Coast. “Some people will not be able to afford it,” he said.
It is also a worrying development for a couple he is working with who have to make an emergency trip to Russia because of a family member who suffered a heart attack. A representative of his company intended to deliver the couple’s documents to the Seattle consulate Monday, but it was turning away such people.
The potential consequences aren’t as big for Senderovich. He has an American passport and uses his Russian passport only when he travels to see relatives or do research.
“I don’t mind being a small casualty,” Senderovich said. “Something needed to have been done much earlier.” He referred not only to the alleged Russian poisoning of a former spy in Britain, but meddling in the U.S. presidential election.
Still, Senderovich noted, “the people that get affected aren’t the ones involved in these larger political machinations.”
For him, it worked out. When he reached the consulate, he found that it was letting people through who were just picking up passports. He was buzzed in, past a sign on the door that said the consulate was closed, and got his.