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March’s Visa Free Digest

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

EUROPE Named relevant territories: United Kingdom, Russia, Turkey, Belarus, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, European Union, Austria, Germany, Italy, Kuwait, Moldova, Ukraine, Israel, Schengen Area
AMERICAS Named relevant territories: Uruguay, Ukraine
ASIA Named relevant territories: Uzbekistan, Europe, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Mongolia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Philippines, Japan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania, European Union, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, United States, Sri Lanka
AFRICA Named relevant territories: South Africa, Mali
OCEANIA Named relevant territories: Fiji, Croatia

Europe

On 1 February, it was revealed that the European Council had laid out a proposal to the European Parliament whereby citizens of the United Kingdom would be allowed visa-free travel within the Schengen zone for periods of 90-180 days post Brexit on condition of reciprocity. However, like all non-EU persons with visa-free travel rights within Schengen, Britons would need to obtain authorisation under the European Travel Information and Authorization Scheme (ETIAS), at a cost of €7, every three years.

 

On 8 February, the Director of Russia’s Foreign Ministry’s Latin American Department, Alexander Shchetinin, said that Russia was continuing negotiations to secure visa-free travel to all Latin America. He noted that only eight out of 33 countries still lacked visa-free agreements with Russia, namely Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Haiti, Mexico, St Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago. He also noted that, of the 25 visa-free travel agreements signed with Latin American countries, only three agreements (those with Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Suriname) had yet to come into force.

 

In early February, at the 11th Business Russia Forum in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the country was aiming to extend both its visa-free and e-visa regimes. “There are, of course, restrictions that we must remove and one of them concerns all formalities, including those related to visas. We are not going to achieve anything by bans in tourism or in other areas,” he said. He did, however, note the concerns of certain Russian security agencies and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, underlining that Russia would take a careful and gradual approach to the regime changes. Maxim Oreshkin, Russia’s Economic Development Minister, later added that “easing visa restrictions and making other major changes may help immediately increase Russia’s revenue from the tourism industry, which currently stands at about $10 billion, by 20-30%.”

 

On 10 February, Russian Ambassador to Turkey Alexei Yerkhov said that a newly-signed Presidential Order would now allow certain Turkish citizens visa-free access to Russia for short-term visits. “For Turkey, we are talking about special and service passport holders, as well as long-haul drivers,” he specified, noting that this encompassed up to a million Turkish citizens. The decree is conditional on Turkey reciprocating with its own visa-free regime for Russian citizens. At a press conference held in Moscow on 23 January 2019, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that a “full visa exemption will cement the ties between the Turkish and the Russian people.” Russian President Vladimir Putin was also at the press conference.

 

On 12 February, Russia’s State Duma ratified an agreement with Belarus to allow visa-free travel for persons attending the second European Games, held in Minsk from 21 June to 30 June 2019. Such persons must have a valid identity document and tickets to at least one of the European Games events. The agreement will remain in force in Russia until 10 July 2019.

 

On 14 February, it was revealed that Russia and Iraq are planning to establish a visa-free regime for some of their passport holders, with an agreement likely to be signed in March 2019. “[W]e are working on signing an agreement, a visa waiver, for diplomatic and service passports between Russia and Iraq. This is very important. We are working on this, now it is in the final stages,” said Iraq’s Ambassador to Russia Haidar Mansour Hadi.

 

On 17 February, Russia launched its visa-free waiver regime for citizens of the United Arab Emirates. Confirmation of the regime came from the UAE’s Embassy in Russia, which tweeted: “Citizens of the UAE from the regular passport holders can travel to the Federal Republic of Russia without prior visas as of Sunday, February 17, based on the agreement signed in the Russian city of Kazan on July 6, 2018.”

 

On 21 February, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, criticised the European Union for imposing “artificial obstacles” to Russia obtaining visa-free travel rights. He was particularly critical of Baltic countries that he believed “thought it unacceptable that Russia would get a visa-free regime before Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova.”

 

In late February, Russia’s State Duma introduced a bill to allow citizens from ‘friendly’ nations to remain in Russia for up to two weeks without needing to apply for a visa. The decision on what will constitute a ‘friendly’ nation has yet to be made, although bill proponents noted Austria, Germany, and Italy could make the list as a result of their positive stance on the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.

 

On 15 February, following a meeting between members of the Italian Senate and a number of members of parliament from Kuwait, Italy’s Senate Foreign Committee President, Vito Petrocelli, said Italy would do everything it could do provide Kuwaitis with visa-free access to the Schengen Area. One Kuwaiti Member of Parliament, Osama Al-Shaheen, said he expected the visa waiver exemption for citizens of Kuwait “in the earliest time possible.” Both sides agreed that all technical requirements for the waiver had been completed.

 

On 19 February, citizens of Moldova and Turkey began benefiting from a new visa-free travel regime enabling them to cross borders with identification cards and to remain in each other’s country for a period of up to 90 days every 180 days. The identification cards must contain chips with data on the individuals crossing the border.

 

In late February, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Ukraine Kateryna Zelenko said that the Ukraine may suspend its visa-free regime with Israel should the country fail to fairly apply its visa-free rules favouring Ukrainian citizens. “[I]f the rights of the Ukrainian tourists and travellers are systematically violated, we are going to reconsider the terms of the visits of the citizens, including the feasibility of the preservation of the visa-free regime for the citizens of countries, where the rights of our citizens are systematically violated,” specified the spokeswoman. The statement came after a number of entry refusals incidents, with the Ukraine barring Israelis who could not demonstrate their purpose of stay, and Israel retaliating against large groups of Ukrainian travellers.


Americas

On 15 February, Uruguay began allowing citizens of the Ukraine to enter the country without a visa for periods of up to 90 days, renewable for an additional 90 days. The change was announced by the Ukraine’s Embassy to Argentina, and follows an agreement signed by the two countries on 26 September 2018.


Asia

On 1 February, Uzbekistan launched its new, open-door policy for short-time travellers coming from 45 countries. The policy, which enables stays of up to 30 days, is part of a new Government agenda to stimulate tourism. Travellers will need to show a passport that is valid for at least 6 months after the date of intended departure from Uzbekistan, travel insurance, return tickets, and hotel details. They will, however, need to register their entry with the relevant authorities. The list of 45 countries includes most of Europe, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Mongolia, and New Zealand, but not the United States.

 

On 8 February, Taiwan extended its visa-free travel regime for citizens of the Philippines until 31 July 2019. The announcement was made by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau during the Travel Tour Expo 2019, which was held at the SMX Convention Centre in Pasay City, Manila, Philippines.

 

On 9 February, the Governor of Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture, Harumi Takahashi, met with his counterpart for Russia’s Sakhalin Region, Valery Limarenko. At the meeting, the two officials determined to lobby their respective governments to allow visa-free travel for their residents. They expressed their belief that the move would help Japan and Russia strengthen ties, and sign a long-awaited World War II peace treaty. On 15 February, reports that the Japanese Government is considering granting a visa waiver to citizens of Russia were welcomed by Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the President’s Office. “Such discussions are undoubtedly welcomed and this fits into the general course towards further developing relations” he said.

 

In mid-February, Kyrgyzstan removed Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania from the list of countries whose citizens may travel to Kyrgyzstan without a visa. Prior to this, citizens of Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania could enjoy a visa-on-arrival facility at Manas International Airport.

 

On 28 February, Kyrgyzstan extended its rules allowing 60-day visa-free entry to nationals of 45 countries, until 2025. It also added seven new nations to the list of countries whose nationals may benefit from the rules.

 

In late February, Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers approved a law enabling citizens from Australia, Canada, the European Union, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and the United States to enter Sri Lanka without a visa. The law is scheduled to become effective on 1 April 2019, and will apply to persons staying in Sri Lanka for up to six months.


Africa

In early February, South Africa and Mali signed a visa waiver agreement for holders of diplomatic, service, or official passports. “Our signing today symbolises a significant gain by the African Union, with the facilitation of movement of persons between our respective countries as member states,” said Siyabonga Cwele, South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs. The agreement, which allows for 90-day stays without a visa, was signed by Minister Cwele and Mali’s Ambassador to South Africa, Mahamane Auoudou Cisse.


Oceania

On 8 February, Fiji and Croatia signed a visa waiver agreement allowing ordinary passport holders to travel within each other’s territories for up to three months. The agreement was signed by Croatia’s Ambassador to Australia, Betty Pavelich Sirois, by Fiji’s High Commissioner to Australia, Luke Daunivalu.

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