December’s Visa-Free Digest 2017

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

Planning your next trip abroad? You will find this Visa-Free Digest especially helpful if you’re about to travel to or from these countries and territories:

GLOBALNamed relevant countries: Canada, United States, Mexico, Morocco
EUROPEName relevant countries: Russia, Brunei, Ukraine, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Belarus, Uruguay, European Union, Armenia
CARIBBEANNamed relevant countries: Grenada, United Arab Emirates, St Kitts and Nevis, Russia
AMERICASNamed relevant countries: Taiwan, United States
MIDDLE EASTNamed relevant countries: United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Solomon Islands, Brazil, Egypt, Qatar, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Gulf Cooperation Council, Schengen member states, United Kingdom, United States, Japan, Iran, Iraq, Romania, United States, Israel
ASIANamed relevant countries: Taiwan, Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, Switzerland, Russia, India, Thailand, European Union, India, Persian Gulf
AFRICA Named relevant countries: Nigeria, Commonwealth of Nations, Tanzania, Rwanda, Australia, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States, Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Kenya

Check our November’s Visa-Free Digest for more updates.


Global

On 7 November, FIFA announced that countries bidding for the 2026 World Cup “should provide government guarantees on visa-free travel plus work permit and tax exemptions for their bids to be accepted.” Canada, the United States, and Mexico have placed a joint bid for the event, as has Morocco. FIFA will accept bids until 16 March 2018.

Europe

On 8 November, Russia and Brunei agreed to exempt ordinary passport holders from applying for visas when entering each other’s territories and remaining for a period of up to 14 days. “It will be a very good thing that our citizens will be able to travel to each other without formalities… It is important for our relations,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who penned the agreement together with Second Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Brunei Lim Jock Seng.

Also in early November, Russia’s Minister of the Interior, Mr Vladimir Kolokoltsev, said that Russia would soon be implementing a procedure whereby individuals benefiting from regimes granting visa-free entry to Russia for more than 30 days would be required to provide photographs and fingerprints.

On 13 November, the Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Mr Pavlo Klimkin, tweeted that the Ukraine was working on removing visa barriers to both Kuwait and Qatar, as well as simplifying visa processes with Saudi Arabia.

The tweet follows a Memorandum of Understanding on the elimination of visas for short-term travellers agreed upon on 2 November 2017 between Ukrainian President Mr Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also the ruler of the Emirate of Dubai.

On 15 November, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Mr Evgeny Shestakov, said that Belarus and Uruguay were in the process of eliminating visas for short-term stays in their countries for holders of ordinary passports. The two countries have already eliminated visas for those holding diplomatic, service, and official passports.

On 29 November, Belarus’ Prime Minister, Mr Andrei Kobyakov, said to the President of the European Olympic Committees (EOC), Mr Janez Kocijancic, that Belarus would consider implementing a visa-free scheme for the duration of the 2019 European Games. The Games are scheduled to take place from 21 to 30 June 2019.

At its 16 November plenary session, the European Parliament has called on the European Union to commence talks on visa-free travel with Armenia. The call comes after several partnership agreements were successfully concluded with Armenia, a landlocked country located in the Caucasus between Europe and Asia.

Caribbean

On 21 November, Grenada signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Arab Emirates to exempt their citizens from visa requirements for short term-travel. The MoU is due to come into force within 30 days of signing, and solidifies the UAE’s position as the Middle Eastern country with the highest number of visa-free travel destinations.

Also on 21 November, St Kitts and Nevis officially celebrated the coming into force of the visa waiver agreement it signed in September 2017 with Russia. The celebration event was hosted by Russian Ambassador to St Kitts and Nevis, His Excellency Vladimir Vinokurov, and was attended by St Kitts and Nevis’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Mark Brantley.

Minister Brantley noted: “It behoves us as a small country to develop friendships with those that share our ideals, and friendships with those that we think can advance the interest of the people of St Kitts and Nevis.” The agreement allows for visa-free travel for holders of ordinary passports for a period of 90 days.

Americas

Starting from 1 November, Taiwan, already a member of the United States’ Visa Waiver Programme (VWP), joined the country’s Global Entry Programme, which allows travellers expedited entry to the United States by the avoidance of long queues at immigration. In turn, citizens of the United States were admitted into Taiwan’s eGate Programme, a similar system for accelerated entry at the border.

Middle East

On 1 November, the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland signed a Memorandum of Understanding to allow short stays without a visa for holders of ordinary passports. The MoU mirrors the current agreement between the UAE and the Schengen member states, whereby holders of ordinary passports may enter said territories for 90 days within a 180-day period.

On 2 November, the United Arab Emirates also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ukraine, officialising the nations’ intent to remove visa barriers for holders of their passports. The MoU is expected to be implemented in December 2017.

On 14 November, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates announced that citizens holding diplomatic, private, and regular passports could travel to Tajikistan without having to apply for a visa. UAE citizens are instead to be issued visas on arrival.

On November 19, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates further announced that the visa-free regime for citizens holding diplomatic, special, and ordinary passports and travelling to the Solomon Islands was finally in force. The regime allows UAE citizens visa-free travel for a period of up to 90 days, and was first outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the UAE and the Solomon Islands in October 2017.

On 30 November, the United Arab Emirates also signed a visa-free agreement with Brazil, allowing citizens of both nations visa-free travel. The agreement applied to holders of diplomatic, special, official, and service passports.

Youths travelling to Egypt for the World Youth Forum (WYF), held in Sharm el-Sheikh from 4 November, were allowed visa-free entry through the Cairo International Airport to facilitate their travels and participation in the conference. The WYF focuses on issues surrounding today’s youth, including sustainability, climate change, and migration.

On 6 November, Qatar launched its ‘Qatar Welcomes the World’ campaign at the World Travel Market (WTM) 2017. The campaign celebrates Qatar embracing a new openness regime for foreign travellers. Commencing in August 2017, the nation opened its doors to nationals from 80 countries, now entitled to enter the country on a multi-entry waiver issued at entry.

Qatar also introduced an Electronic Travel Authorisation System, available to all foreigners holding residence permits or visas from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Gulf Cooperation Council member states, the Schengen member states, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

On 22 November, Qatar announced a 90-day mutual visa-free regime with Japan, applying to holders of diplomatic and special passports, and coming into force on 1 January 2018. The regime was determined at a ceremony held in Japan’s Foreign Ministry, and which was attended by a number of Qatari officials including the Secretary-General to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ambassador to Japan, and the Director of the Asian Affairs Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On 9 November, Iraq’s Ambassador to Iran, Mr Rageh al-Mosawi, was quoted as saying that “Baghdad intends to cancel visas for Iranian visitors after the complete elimination of Daesh [Islamic State].” Iraq is a key destination for Shia Muslims, and a visa-free regime would facilitate their travels and strengthen relations between Iraq and Iran.

On 11 November, following a meeting in Iran’s capital of Tehran, Mr Hossein Amir Abdollahian, special advisor to Iran’s Parliament, and Mr Daniel Popsko, Head of Romania-Iran Parliamentary Friendship Group, it was announced that Iran and Romania are considering the implementation of a visa-free travel agreement for their citizens.

On 13 November, Israel’s Minister of Justice, Ms Ayelet Shaked, said that the country was overcoming the hurdles preventing it from being a part of the United States Visa Waiver Programme (VWP). Such hurdles include Israel’s laws on the use of biometric data, which prevent Israel from sharing such data with foreign powers, as well as high numbers of US visa refusal rates (above 3 percent).

Whilst there was some suggestion that the first hurdle may be overcome by Israel and the United States agreeing to share data on individuals with criminal records only, shortly after a spokesperson for the US State Department said that entry to the VWP was a complex process, and that the United States remained concerned “about the unequal treatments given to US Muslims” entering Israel.

The spokesperson noted that the “U.S. administration requires that every US citizen receive the same treatment upon arrival in foreign countries and benefit from unrestricted freedom of movement, regardless of their ethnic affiliation and country of origin.”

Asia

On 1 November, the widely publicised visa-free regime for Filipinos travelling to Taiwan was finally launched, allowing Filipinos to remain in Taiwan for a period of two weeks. The regime is on a trial period, and will apply to holders of passports from the Philippines for nine months, unless it is renewed.

As part of its strategy to promote the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, scheduled for 9-25 February 2018, South Korea announced on 3 November that, from the beginning of 2018 to April 2018, it will allow visa-free entry for tourists groups from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam coming through YangYang International Airport.

On 30 November, South Korea declared that, from 1 December to 31 March 2017, it would allow visa-free entry for citizens of China travelling to South Korea for up to 15 days. To qualify, Chinese citizens must have held a Korean visa in the last five years, and must demonstrate that they entered and left according to the terms of that visa.

They must also show they have tickets to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, which are due to take place from 9-25 February 2018. Finally, they must be free from a criminal record or a record of committing an immigration violation in South Korea. All those approved under the scheme receive a five-year multiple-entry visa.

On 5 November, the Philippine Consulate-General said it issued recommendations to ease visa requirements for nationals of GCC countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) and residents of the UAE. While UAE citizens may travel to the Philippines for 30 days without a visa, many members of its expat community must currently wait days prior to receiving a visa to travel to the Philippines.

On 9 November, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan said that, after negotiations held in Bern, Kazakhstan and Switzerland may well eliminate visas for holders of service passports. Both countries pledged to submit proposals on the matter, with the goal of implementation in the near future.

On 13 November, the Government of the city of Heihe, located in northeast China, said that it was in talks with Russia to implement a visa-free regime for citizens travelling between Heihe and the Russian city of Blagoveshchensk.

The two cities are separated by a river, known as the Heilong River in China and the Amur River in Russia, and stand a mere 750 metres from each other. The Deputy Governor of Russia’s Amur region, where Blagoveshchensk is located, said that he would apply to Russia’s national Government to receive the green light for implementation.

On 21 November, an official from the Indian Home Ministry said that India and Russia had agreed on the elimination of visas for their flight crewmembers, including those working both in chartered and scheduled flights. With over 1,200 scheduled flights and 1,1000 chartered flights between India and Russia each year, the agreement is expected to significantly facilitate interactions between the two nations.

On 24 November, Control Yuan, a branch of the Taiwanese Government responsible for ensuring the Government remains accountable for its actions, issued a report warning Taiwan of the consequences of adopting wide visa-free policies without ensuring strict controls and data collection measures, particularly as they apply to Thailand. The report highlighted a greater incidence of drug and sex trafficking crime by Thai nationals following the launch of a trial-basis visa-free regime with the nation in August 2016.

On 25 November, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was strengthening its borders. Criticism of Taiwan’s visa regimes also came from the Chairman of the country’s largest opposition party, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), who warned that Taiwan should be “cautious and discreet” and that it should seek reciprocity.

On 28 November, the President of Kazakhstan issued a draft decree outlining plans to simplify the nation’s visa requirements for citizens of China, the European Union, India, and the countries of the Persian Gulf. Kazakhstan intends to implement these changes as part of its development plan until 2025. One of the planned visa liberalisation schemes includes 72-hour visa-free transits.

Africa

Speaking at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 6 November, Deputy President of Nigeria’s Senate, Mr Ike Ekweremadu, called on the Commonwealth of Nations to abolish all visa regimes. “Free movement of citizens across Commonwealth borders is key to building stronger ties amongst member states. National parliaments should, therefore, champion visa-free regime for Commonwealth citizens,” said the Nigerian politician.

The African Judicial Dialogue, which saw members of Africa’s judicial branches meet in Tanzania until 11 November, became the stage for several justices to call on African nations to abolish barriers to visa-free travel.

To note one example, whose words were widely welcomed, Sudanese Justice Jame Alala Deng said that “We are talking of united Africa and indeed Africa is uniting, but this should reflect on the movement of our people.” Tanzania was also thanked for allowing the justices to enter visa-free in order to partake in the Dialogue.

On 16 November, a document issued by the Directorate of Immigration and Emigration said that, commencing 1 January 2018, Rwanda would open its doors to travellers from all over the world. With the new year, citizens from all countries in the globe will be entitled to a visa-on-arrival, enabling them to remain in Rwanda for a period of 30 days. Rwanda currently implements this system for all African countries. Citizens of Australia, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States will however need to pay US$30 for their entry visa.

On 17 November, Angola and Mozambique signed an agreement to allow their citizens to cross borders without a visa for up to 30 days. The agreement will need to be approved by the two countries’ parliaments, and will apply to all holders of ordinary passports. Jaime Montero, Angola’s Interior Minister, said that the agreement would “be implemented within the shortest period of time possible.”

On 22 November, Angola and South Africa agreed on a visa-free regime for holders of ordinary passports, scheduled to come into force on 1 December 2017. The regime applies to visits lasting up to 30 consecutive days, and constituting no more than 90 days total visiting time every year.

As November drew to a close, only one month after inaugurating visa-free travel for all member states of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), Equatorial Guinea shut its borders to citizens of Cameroon. CEMAC includes Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. The authorities from Equatorial Guinea have yet to explain the border closure.

On 28 November, as Uhuru Kenyatta stood for his inauguration to the Kenyan presidency, he announced that Kenya would allow entry with visas-on-arrival for all African citizens. “Today, I am directing that any African wishing to visit Kenya will be eligible to receive a visa at the port of entry,” said the President. The move does not require reciprocity on the part of other African countries.