A comprehensive analysis of last month’s changes to visa-free travel across the globe.
|EUROPE||Named relevant territories: |
Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Albania, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, European Union, Russia, Belarus, Netherlands, Albania, Ukraine, Ecuador, Northern Macedonia.
|AMERICAS||Named relevant territories: Chile, India, United States, Kazakhstan, Poland, Sri Lanka, Canada|
|Named relevant territories: Iran, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, China|
|ASIA||Named relevant territories: Uzbekistan, China, India, Hong Kong, Belarus, Taiwan, Philippines, eSwatini, Thailand, Ukraine, Andorra, Bulgaria, Bhutan, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Mongolia, United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, Australia, Canada, European Union, United Kingdom, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, United States, Pakistan, Nepal, Samoa, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago|
|AFRICA||Named relevant territories: United States, Ghana, Malta|
Beginning on 1 April and continuing until 31 October 2019, citizens of Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia became able to enter Albania without needing to receive a visa. Sami Shiba, Albania’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said tourism would benefit from the move, which is expected to be followed by the establishment of direct flights from Riyadh and Jeddah to Tirana.
On 4 April, the European Parliament approved a law that would allow UK passport holders visa-free entry to the Schengen Area even in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. Maximum stay rules would apply however, as UK citizens would only be able to stay for up to 90 days in every 180-day period. The law is however contingent on the United Kingdom passing reciprocal legislation for citizens of the European Union.
On 8 April, Russia’s Special Presidential Envoy for the Middle East and Africa and Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, said that Russia was interested in eliminating short-term travel barriers with the Arab world. “It is in our joint interest to go along this path. We will do everything possible to accelerate the processes,” he noted. His comments were made on the side-lines of the Russian-Arab Business Council’s expo ‘Russia – Arab World: Time to Cooperate for our Future.’
On 16 April, Russia’s State Duma passed a bill allowing 2020 UEFA Euro Cup Fans visa-free entry into the country. The bill also allows fans to make use of free transport rides, and gives UEFA the right to regulate the sale, purchase, and use of tournament tickets for matches held in Russia.
On 22 April, Russia decreed that attendees of the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), to be held in Vladivostok from 4-6 September 2019, will be allowed visa-free entry from 1-10 September 2019. The temporary visa-free regime has been repeated each year since the EEF was commenced in 2015. The EEF aims to encourage investment and development in Russia’s Far East regions.
On 10 April, officials from Belarus proposed an extension of the visa-free regime currently in force in the Hrodna region and allowing foreigners to visit for up to 10 days so long as they have valid insurance and a document issued by a Belarusian travel agency. The proposal would extend the visa-free region to the districts of Shchuchyn, Voranava, and Lida. It would also afford foreigners the right to travel in these areas for up to one month.
On 29 April, Belarus announced that foreign attendees of the International Festival of Arts Slavianski Bazaar, held in Vitebsk, would be able to enter the country without a visa. To take advantage of this temporary visa-free regime, foreigners will need to show a valid passport and tickets to the event. “According to the executive order [governing the regime], visa free entry starts several days ahead of the festival and ends several days after,” said Gleb Lapitsky, Director General of the Bazaar. The Bazaar will be held from 8-17 July 2019, but the regime will remain in force from 1-20 July 2019.
On 16 April, the Parliament of the Netherlands voted to ask the European Commission to exclude Albania from the list of countries that can enter the Schengen Area without a visa. The request came after members of an Albanian organised crime network were arrested in four EU nations, including the Netherlands. As of 17 April 2019 however, the procedure for the visa suspension mechanism had yet to be triggered. Albania’s Government issued a press release stating it was “confident that this resolution cannot find support in the European Commission.”
On 24 April, the Parliament of the Ukraine authorised the signing of agreements on visa-free travel with Ecuador and Northern Macedonia. The two ambassadors tasked with completing the agreements are the Ambassador to Peru, Ihor Tumasov, and the Ambassador to Macedonia, Natalia Zadorozhniuk.
In early April, Chile announced it would launch a visa-free regime for citizens of India with valid visas to the United States. The announcement followed a visit to Chile by Indian President Ram Nath Kovind. India’s President welcomed the announcement, noting that it would improve cultural and business ties between the two nations.
The United States Ambassador to Kazakhstan, William Moser, said in early April that visa-free travel for Kazakhs was unlikely in the future, despite talks on the matter between US President Donald Trump and then-Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in January 2018.
On 19 April, the United States’ Ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbache, said that the two countries would establish a visa-free regime by 2020. This followed an announcement, made in September 2018 by US President Donald Trump, that the United States was considering introducing Poland to its Visa Waiver Programme.
In late April, Canada’s High Commission to Sri Lanka and the Maldives discredited social media news that Canada would soon remove visa requirements for citizens of Sri Lanka. Sri Lankans must obtain a visa in order to travel to Canada.
Speaking in Tehran on 6 April, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he hoped Iran and Iraq would soon officialise a visa-free agreement for their nationals. President Rouhani was speaking at a meeting attended by Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi al-Muntafiki. On 4 April, the Iranian Cabinet approved the issuance of free visas for citizens of Iraq on condition that Iraq did the same for Iranians.
On 29 April, the United Arab Emirates and Cuba signed a Memorandum of Understanding detailing plans for a visa waiver regime for holders of ordinary passports. The Memorandum was signed by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates, Yacoub Yousef Hassan Al Hosani, and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Anayansi Rodriguez.
China’s ambassador to Uzbekistan, Jian Yang, said in early April that China and Uzbekistan were working to simplify travelling for their respective citizens. “At the moment, the parties are still holding consultations in order to conclude new agreements as soon as possible to further simplify the issuance of visas for each other. I am confident that, thanks to the joint efforts of both sides, very soon the citizens of China and Uzbekistan will freely visit each other just as close neighbours, exchange views and experience, and also work on developing friendly ties,” he said. China and Uzbekistan established diplomatic relations on 2 January 1992.
In early April, Uzbekistan and India penned an agreement to allow visa-free entry for holders of diplomatic passports.
On 8 April, the Government of Hong Kong, one of China’s Special Administrative Regions, announced that Belarus and Hong Kong would both benefit from an expansion of visa-free travel rights for their citizens beginning on 10 April 2019. The expansion involves citizens being able to travel visa-free for periods of up to 30 days, instead of the earlier maximum of 14 days.
In mid-April, Taiwan received calls to extend the 14-day visa-free regime currently in place for citizens of the Philippines. The calls came primarily from travel agencies and airlines, which hope the regime will be extended beyond its 31 July 2019 deadline. The temporary regime was first instituted in November 2017 and was extended for one year on 31 July 2018.
On 26 April, Taiwan announced it would grant 90-day visa-free travel rights to citizens of eSwatini (formerly known as Swaziland) beginning in June 2019. The rights will apply to those whose passport has a validity of at least six months, and who can provide evidence of accommodation, financial statements, and an emergency contact. eSwatini is the only African nation to hold diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
On 14 April, Thailand inaugurated its visa-free facility for citizens of the Ukraine. Under the facility, Ukrainians can visit Thailand for up to 30 days without needing to apply for a visa, irrespective of whether they are travelling on a biometric or non-biometric passport. Then-President of the Ukraine Petro Poroshenko wrote: ““Great country! Ukrainian citizens can travel to the Kingdom of Thailand for tourist purposes without a visa.”
On 24 April, Thailand’s Government approved an extension of its fee waiver on visas-on-arrival for nationals of 21 countries including: Andorra, Bulgaria, Bhutan, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, the Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. The fee waiver, due to expire on 30 April 2019, will now continue for an additional six months until 30 October 2019. It applies to persons who remain in Thailand for a maximum of 15 days. The extension was announced by Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 25 April 2019.
On 24 April, Mongolia announced that it would lift visa requirements for citizens of the United Arab Emirates beginning on 15 May 2019. The visa waiver will apply to ordinary passport holders remaining in Mongolia for a maximum of 30 days.
On 25 April, Sri Lanka’s Minister for Tourism, John Amaratunga, said that the country’s plan to issue visas-on-arrival to citizens of 39 countries from 1 May to 31 October 2019 was suspended “in consideration of the current security situation.” The Minister was referring to the attacks that took place in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday 2019. The visa-on-arrival facility was intended to apply to citizens of Australia, Canada, the European Union (including the United Kingdom), Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and the United States. Separately, Sri Lanka was also considering visa-free entry for citizens of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, the Maldives, Nepal, and Pakistan.
On 27 April, Pakistan announced several changes to its visa-free policies. First, ordinary citizens of the Maldives, Nepal, Samoa, Tonga, and Trinidad and Tobago were granted visa-free travel rights. Second, diplomatic passport holders from 12 countries were also granted visa-free travel rights. Finally, visa-free travel was granted to both diplomatic and official passport holders from 31 countries.
On 30 April, Lin Weixiong, Deputy Director General of the Guangdong Department of Public Security, said that Guangdong, a province in southeast China, would begin implementing a 144-hour visa-free travel scheme on 1 May 2019. “The new visa-free policy will play a very active role in promoting regional economic construction in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and advancing cooperation between Guangdong and the neighbouring Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions in the following years,” he noted.
Although news broke out on 3 April that Ghanaians could travel to the United States without a visa for up to three months, the story was discredited as ‘fake news’ by Ghana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration on 6 April 2019. Ghana continues to be excluded from the US Visa Waiver Programme.
In early April, Ghana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration also had to deny reports that Ghana and Malta had signed a visa waiver agreement for ordinary citizens. Instead, the agreement encompassed holders of diplomatic and service passports on official assignment. The agreement has yet to come into force.
In mid-March, New Zealand announced it would be adding an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) requirement for all persons currently able to enter the country visa-free, except Australian passport holders. This includes persons travelling on cruise ships and those transiting through Auckland International Airport. The ETA system will be rolled out on 1 October 2019. ETAs for New Zealand may take 72 hours to be processed, will be valid for two years (or until the expiry of the traveller’s passport), will allow multiple entries, and will cost NZ$9 if the application is made via phone app or NZ$12 if it is made via website. The ETA system will be coupled with the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy – a NZ$35 fee that will be applied to all visitors except for Australian citizens and permanent residents.