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February’s Visa Free Digest

A comprehensive analysis of last month’s changes to visa-free travel across the globe.

EUROPE Named relevant territories: Russia, Iran, Japan, Belarus, South Korea, Armenia, Hong Kong, China, Ukraine, Uruguay
CARIBBEAN  Named relevant territories: US Virgin Islands, Caribbean Community
AMERICAS Named relevant territories: Brazil, United States, Australia, Canada, Japan
MIDDLE EAST Named relevant territories: United Arab Emirates, Maldives, Burundi, Qatar, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Algeria
ASIA Named relevant territories: Malaysia, India, China, Europe, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uzbekistan, Taiwan, El Salvador, Thailand, Andorra, Bulgaria, Bhutan, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Ukraine, Vietnam, Pakistan
AFRICA Named relevant territories: Cape Verde, EU member states, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, African Union

Europe

On 15 January, Russia said it was looking forward to its visa waiver agreement with Iran coming into force in the near future. The agreement provides for 15 days of visa-free travel for tourist groups of up to 50 people. “Russiatourism the party responsible for concluding the agreement from the Russian side and its Iranian partners are finalizing the list of companies of the two countries that will host and send the tourist groups, as well as finishing work on some technical aspects of the cooperation,” commented Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Yevgeny Ivanov.

 

Also on 15 January, after talks with Japan’s Foreign Minister, Taro Kono, Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that “…there are no reasons for Russia and Japan not to introduce visa-free travel, beginning, for example, with residents of Sakhalin and Hokkaido.” The matter was raised following discussions on the signing of a post- World War II peace treaty between Russia and Japan – something that the two countries have yet to complete despite the war having ended more than 70 years ago.

 

At a press conference held on 15 January, Belarus’ Deputy Director for the Tourism Department of the Ministry of Sports and Tourism, Vitaly Gritsevich, said that one of the Ministry’s “immediate tasks is to unite the visa-free zones of Grodno Oblast and Brest Oblast,” thereby providing tourists with fresh opportunities for travel. The new zone would also include additional tourist destinations such as the Ivatsevichi, Lida, and Novogrudok Districts. Belarus has been extending its visa-free regimes, having noted significant rises in the number of foreigners choosing the country as a destination for tourism.

 

In an interview held at the end of January, Belarus’ Ambassador to South Korea, Andrei Popkov, said that Belarus and South Korea were negotiating short-term visa-free travel for their ordinary passport holders. At present, while South Koreans can take advantage of Belarus’ recent open-door policies on short-term foreign travel, citizens of Belarus must obtain a visa prior to visiting South Korea.

 

On 24 January, Armenia approved an agreement for visa-free entry with Hong Kong. The agreement, due to be implemented on 3 March 2019, allows citizens of Hong Kong to enter Armenia for a period of up to 180 days. It also allows citizens of Armenia to enter Hong Kong, but only for a period of up to 30 days. Armenia’s Vice Premier, Tigran Avinyan, said that an agreement with the entirety of China was also being negotiated: “The Chinese side has given us a draft international agreement, and now the Ministry is comprehensively considering it with taking into account migration flows and risks.”

 

On 24 January, the Embassy of the Ukraine in Argentina tweeted that its visa-free agreement with Uruguay would come into force on 15 February 2019. The Twitter announcement specified that Ukrainians would be able to visit Uruguay for 90 days, extendable for an additional 90 days. The Ukraine approved the agreement on 27 December 2018.


Caribbean

In early January, the US Virgin Islands introduced a bill in the US House of Representatives to establish a visa-waiver programme for citizens of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The programme would allow visa-free entry for up to 30 days for purposes of tourism or business, and could be suspended by the United States. The bill is viewed by some with anxiety however, particularly as there are fears it would not improve tourism, and instead encourage migration from islanders hoping to use the US Virgin Islands as a stepping stone into the United States.


Americas

On 17 January, Brazil’s Minister for Tourism, Marcelo Alvaro Antonio, said that Brazil was considering removing visa requirements for citizens of the United States, as well as Australia, Canada, and Japan. The news falls in line with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s policies of strengthening ealing ties with the United States and encouraging tourism.


Middle East

On 1 January, the United Arab Emirates inaugurated a new, visa-on-arrival regime for citizens of the Maldives. The scheme applies to holders of diplomatic, official, and ordinary passports who visit the United Arab Emirates for no longer than one month. It does not cover persons travelling for business. The relevant agreement was signed between the United Arab Emirates and the Maldives on 28 December 2018.

 

On 3 January, the United Arab Emirates penned a Memorandum of Understanding with Burundi to establish visa-free travel for their respective citizens. The Memorandum was signed by the United Arab Emirates’ Minister of State, Zaki Nusseibeh, and Burundi’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Ezéchiel Nibigira. The United Arab Emirates and Burundi have been enjoying closer relations, with the former applauding Burundi’s decision to participate in EXPO 2020 Dubai.

 

In early January, Qatar announced that citizens of Pakistan could avail themselves of visas-on-arrival at Qatari airports for trips of up to 30 days. Pakistanis must present a confirmed and non-cancellable return ticket, dated to at most six months from the date of entry. The must also present evidence of accommodation, and a valid credit or debit card in their name. If travelling from Pakistan, they must also show they are vaccinated against polio.

 

On 16 January, in a meeting at Iran’s Consulate General in Iraq’s holy city of Karbala, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said that Iran and Iraq may sign a visa waiver agreement on the occasion of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s trip to Iraq. He also stressed that he saw no ceiling on the possibilities for collaboration between the two nations.

 

On 21 January, the Head of Lebanon’s Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture, Mohamed Choucair, said that Lebanon was considering establishing a visa waiver regime with Algeria. “This is one of the opportunities that exist between the two countries and we will be working on it very soon,” he noted.


Asia

Starting from 1 January and continuing to 31 December 2019, Malaysia opened a visa-on-arrival system for nationals of India. The system allows Indians to register online via Malaysia’s Electronic Travel Registration & Information (eNTRI) facility, and to show their eNTRI Note at the Malaysian border. Indians have 90 days to enter Malaysia from the date of issuance of the eNTRI Note and may remain in the country for up to 15 days.

 

Beginning on 1 January, the Chinese city of Kunming extended its visa-free travel policy from stays of a maximum of 72 hours to 144 hours. The policy enables persons from 53 countries to travel from one country to a different one, transiting via Kunming. No other transit stops within China are allowed. Persons must not leave Kunming to return to the same country from which they first entered the city, and travel must be by plane – not by land or sea. Evidence of onward air travel must be provided. The 53 countries include most of Europe, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. The same policy was also inaugurated on 1 January 2019 in the cities of Chengdu, Qingdao, Wuhan, and Xiamen.

 

On 7 January, Uzbekistan’s President signed a decree ‘On additional measures for the accelerated development of tourism in the Republic of Uzbekistan’ that establishes visa-free travel rights for citizens of 45 countries. Scheduled to come into force on 1 February 2019, the decree envisions stays of up to 30 days. A similar regime was launched by Uzbekistan in February 2018 for persons from Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and Turkey, as well as for Germany, with the latter obtaining the right to enter Uzbekistan beginning on 15 January 2019. France and Tajikistan were also included at different times.

 

On 8 January, Taiwan announced it had terminated its visa waiver regime for citizens of El Salvador. The move reciprocates El Salvador’s decision to end visa-free travel for citizens of Taiwan in December 2018. In August 2018, El Salvador ascribed to the ‘One China policy,’ thereby recognising China and ending formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. A spokeswoman for Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented: “We learned of the decision on El Salvador’s part to cancel the visa-free treatment to Taiwanese passport holders in early December. Based on the principle of reciprocity, we therefore decided to cancel the visa-free treatment to El Salvador’s passport holders as well, starting Dec. 12.”

 

On 8 January, Thailand’s Cabinet extended the waiver of visa-on-arrival fees for nationals of 20 countries. Originally scheduled to end on 13 January 2019, the waiver will now end on 30 April 2019. The fee normally amounts to 2,000 baht. The 20 countries selected by Thailand for the fee waiver are Andorra, Bulgaria, Bhutan, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, the Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, the Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. Thailand’s aim is to attract Chinese tourists during the Chinese New Year, celebrated in February, and the Thai New Year (Songkran), celebrated in April.

 

On 16 January, India’s Union Cabinet gave its approval to an agreement signed with the Maldives in December 2018. The agreement envisions visa-free travel for citizens of India and the Maldives for periods of up to 90 days for tourism, medical, and limited business purposes only. There are also provisions to convert visa-free travel rights into medical visas or dependant visas (for dependants of those studying or seeking employment).

 

On 23 January, Vietnam and Lithuania signed an agreement waiving visa requirements for holders of diplomatic and official passports. The agreement was penned by Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Phạm Bình Minh and Lithuanian Interior Minister Eimutis Misiunas. Vietnam can count 85 agreements on visa-free travel for diplomats.

 

On 25 January, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, said Pakistan would launch a visa-on-arrival regime for citizens of 50 countries, and an e-visa regime for citizens of 175 countries. He further specified that British and US citizens of Indian origin would be able to take advantage of the visa-on-arrival policy.


Africa

On 1 January, citizens of 32 European countries began benefitting from 30-day visa-free travel to Cape Verde. The 32 countries, which include all EU member states and Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, were formally identified by Cape Verde’s Council of Ministers on 27 December 2018.

 

In early January, the African Union (AU) announced it would present guidance for a continent-wide African Passport in February 2019. AU Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said: “I am pleased to stress that, in February 2019, in Addis Ababa, at the 32nd Summit of our Union, the Commission will present, for adoption, guidelines on the design, production and issuance of the African passport, the materialization of which will take us one step closer to the long-held dream of complete free movement across the continent.”

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