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Visa-Free Digest: February

On 18 February, the United States Department of Homeland Security extended the scope of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act to include individuals who travelled to Libya, Somalia, and Yemen after 1 March 2011. This means that these individuals – who would otherwise have the right to travel to the USA visa-free on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) – will now need to go through a strict scrutiny procedure and obtain a visa. The rule does not apply to dual nationals of these three nations.

The United Kingdom no longer holds the strongest passport for visa-free travel, dropping to third position together with Finland, France, Italy, and Spain. These countries can all offer visa-free access to 175 countries and territories. In first place is Germany, with visa-free access to 177 countries and territories. In second place is Sweden, with access to 176 countries and territories. The UAE remains the MENA nation with the best travel options, with 122 countries and territories to which its citizens may travel without a visa. Afghanistan and Pakistan are the world’s worst countries for visa-free travel. The island-nations of Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Lucia, which offer the most sought-after citizenship by investment programmes in the world, ranked 41st, 39th, 32nd, and 37th respectively.

The Caribbean island-nation of Dominica has sealed an agreement with Brazil to obtain visa-free travel for its citizens. This will be welcome news to Dominicans who, among other things, will be able to attend the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Georgia has unilaterally reinstated visa-free travel for citizens of Iran. The scheme became effective on 15 February, and allows Iranians to visit Georgia for up to 45 days without needing to apply for a visa. The move follows the lifting of sanctions on Iran by the United States, the European Union, and Russia. A previous visa-free agreement between the two nations was unilaterally suspended by Georgia on 1 July 2013.

In a bid to increase tourism, Iran has also announced that all nations that do not already have visa-free agreements with the Islamic Republic will benefit from visas-upon-arrival. Only nine nations have been excluded from this new rule, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Canada, Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan, Somalia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Nationals benefiting from the visas-upon-arrival will be able to remain in Iran for a period of up to 30 days.

An agreement to ease visa procedures for nationals of Iran and Russia, signed in November 2015, came into effect on 6 February. The agreement makes travel easier for tourists, as well as businesspersons, teachers and students, and individuals attending scientific, cultural, and creative activities. Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, said that Iran and Russia are also considering removing visa requirements altogether. Mr Mehdi Sanaei, Iran’s ambassador to Russia, has also been supportive of the proposed visa-free regime, stating that: “[a] visa-free regime is important both for trade and development of tourism between the two countries.”

Vietnam has announced that it will allow visa-free travel for citizens of France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Citizens of these five nations will be able to stay in Vietnam for up to 15 days. However, should they wish to re-enter Vietnam within 30 days of their last visit, they will need to apply for a visa.

 

As of 1 February 2016, Uruguay has opened its borders to citizens of Macau. Macau is an ex-Portuguese overseas colony and a special administrative region in China known as the ‘Las Vegas of Asia.’ Macanese individuals will now be able to stay in Uruguay for a period of up to 90 days without having to apply for a visa.

On Wednesday 3 February, Macau also signed an agreement with Armenia, allowing nationals to travel visa-free for up to 90 days. The date on which the agreement will come into effect has yet to be announced. Macao passport holders may travel visa-free or with a visa upon arrival to 120 countries and territories.

On 2 February 2016, China and Mozambique came together to sign a reciprocal visa-free agreement for their respective diplomats and servicepersons.

Shanghai, one of China’s most bustling cities, has announced that Australian nationals will now be able to stay in the metropolis for 144 hours without applying for a visa. Importantly, Australians will only be able to take advantage of the visa-free regime if they can demonstrate they have an onward journey ticket to a third-country destination. Prior to the announcement, Australians could transit in Shanghai visa-free for up to 72 hours. This policy does not just cover Australians, but also nationals from 51 countries including France, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Guo Shaochun, Deputy Head of China’s Foreign Ministry’s Consular Department, recently revealed that 53 nations have now agreed to grant Chinese nationals ‘priority status,’ meaning that Chinese passport holders may travel to these countries without a visa or with a visa upon arrival. This number is higher than previously reported, as in 2015 China had only secured visa-free or visa upon arrival agreements with 45 nations.

A proposal has been introduced in the Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, the unicameral parliament of the Ukraine, to suspend visa-free travel with Russia. Currently, Ukrainians and Russians may across their nations’ borders for a period of up to 90 days.

The Ukraine has threatened to suspend visa-free access for citizens of Israel, following a visit to the Crimean Peninsula by Ya’akov Margi, the Israeli Minister of Religious Services. Mr Margi met Sergey Valeryevich Aksyonov, who serves as the Prime Minister of the Republic of Crimea following Russia’s disputed annexation of the region in 2014. The visa suspension would substantially affect the thousands of Israeli pilgrims wanting to visit Uman, a Ukrainian city that is the gravesite of the 18th century founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.

Abkhazia, a breakaway republic considered by most countries to be part of Georgia, has now declared that it will grant visa-free access to citizens of all nations who recognise it as an independent nation. In practice, this means that citizens of Nauru, Nicaragua, Russia, and Venezuela.

Abkhazia also announced it intends to establish visa-free regimes with Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh, two other breakaway nations. The United Nations considers Transnistria to be part of Moldova, and Nagorno-Karabakh to be part of Azerbaijan. Only Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia recognise Transnistria’s right to self-rule. Similarly, only Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria recognise Nagorno-Karabakh independence. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, through its spokesperson, Mr Hikmet Hajiyev, has criticised the move, arguing that these visa-free agreements between breakaway regions are illegal.

It was announced on 2 February that, following a meeting between India’s Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, and Afghanistan’s Chief Operating Officer (CEO), Abdullah Abdullah, diplomatic passport holders of the two nations would no longer be required to obtain a visa before travelling to India or Afghanistan.

Russia’s Ministry of Culture has called for the introduction of a three-day visa-free regime for the Arctic cities of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. These two regions have been growing in popularity among tourists hoping to see the northern lights and witnessing the unique habitats of the Arctic region.

Businesspersons and workers from Romania will soon be able to stay in South Korea for 180 days visa-free, and vice-versa, have announced the two nations. The agreement is due to become effective in March 2016. Currently, only not-for-profit visitors from the two nations may travel without a visa, and for no more than 90 days.

South African Director General of the Department of Home Affairs, Mr Mkuseli Apleni, announced that South Africa is considering significant changes to its visa-free policies. Firstly, it will be evaluating granting visa-free entry rights to citizens of China, India, and Russia. Secondly, is anticipating granting visas upon arrival to those having permits to travel to Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Finally, some businesspersons and academics from other African nations will be able to apply for a 10-year multiple-entry visa.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has launched its first-ever African Visa Openness Index, showing that most African countries have been reticent to provide visa-free access to other African nationals. On average, Africans can only travel without a visa to 20% of other African countries, with a visa-upon-arrival to 25% of other countries, and with a visa to 55% of other countries. The most open African nation is the Seychelles, allowing visa-free access to all African nationals. East and West African nations were, as a group, the most open to visa-free travel, while North and Central African nations were the most closed-off.

Peruvians are no longer expected to need a biometric passport to travel without a visa to the Schengen Area, said Ambassador Carlos Polo of Peru. The visa-free regime between Peru and the Schengen Area is due to come into force in March 2016, and projections indicate that Peruvian tourism to the Schengen Area will increase by 15% in 2016. Peruvians have been able to apply for biometric passports since 26 February 2016.

Brazilian Undersecretary General for Africa and Middle East Political Affairs in the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, Mr Fernando Abreu, has announced that Brazil and Oman are in the “advanced stages” of talks to allow visa-free travel for nationals holding diplomatic and service passports, as well as ordinary passport holders wishing to travel for a period not exceeding 30 days.

The Dominican Republic has applied to the European Union to obtain visa-free travel for up to 90 days for its citizens. If approved, nationals of the Dominican Republic would be able to visit an additional 26 European nations without requiring a visa.

On Sunday 21 February, the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Kuwait announced that Kuwaiti nationals travelling to the UK for tourism and business would be able to apply using a new Electronic Visa Waiver (EVW) scheme. The system allows Kuwaitis to complete an online form up to 48 hours before their date of travel – instead of having to submit their passports and giving biometric data – and remain in the United Kingdom for a period of up to six months.

Japan is in the process of approving a “working holiday visa” scheme with Slovakia, which is expected to come into force in June 2016. Under the scheme, Slovaks aged between 18 and 30 may travel and work within Japan for a one year ‘holiday’ without needing to apply for a work visa. The number of visas issued under the scheme will be subject to a quota. Japan has similar schemes in place with 15 countries or regions, including Australia, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has invited the members of the Developing-8 (D-8) to abolish visa restrictions for their nationals. In addition to Nigeria, the D-8 include Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Turkey.

Bulgaria has announced that it will be offering cheaper and simplified visas for Russian tourists. More specifically, Russians will be able to apply without giving their fingerprints, and their visas will come at lower prices. Russians holding a Schengen Visa won’t even be required to undergo the visa application procedures. Bulgaria is hoping to attract visitors from Russia who, due to recent political tensions, will choose not to travel to Egypt and Turkey.

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