February’s Visa-Free Digest 2018

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:

EUROPENamed relevant countries: Belarus, Russia, Hong Kong, Armenia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Philippines, Ireland, United Arab Emirates
AMERICASName relevant countries: United States
ASIANamed relevant countries: Taiwan, Philippines, South Korea, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, United States, Kazakhstan, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand, United Kingdom, Schengen Area, European Union, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma)
AFRICANamed relevant countries: Rwanda, Australia, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States, Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Benin, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Indonesia, Haiti, Mauritius, Philippines, Senegal, Seychelles, Sao Tome and Principe, Singapore, Egypt, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Cape Verde, Canada, Schengen Area, African Union, Burkina Faso, United Arab Emirates
OCEANIANamed relevant countries: Fiji, Argentina

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


Europe

Starting on 1 January, Belarus extended its visa-free regime from a maximum stay of five days to ten days. The ten-day regime applies to nationals of 77 countries travelling to Belarus’ Hrodna and Brest regions only. Travellers to Minsk were not affected by the change, and remain bound by Belarus’ previous five-day regime, which however does not restrict them to regional travel.

On 11 January, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus said he would work on resolving the tensions between Belarus and Russia resulting from the former establishing an open-border, short-stay, visa-free entry regime with 80 nations at the beginning of 2017. Although border controls between Belarus and Russia were eliminated in 1995, they were re-established as a consequence of the 2017 regime.

On 11 January, following a meeting with President Alexander Lukashenko, Vladimir Makei, Belarus’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that Belarus was working on establishing visa-free regimes with several countries. “This work continues. At the [11 January] meeting the head of state asked to intensify this process. I think that we can expect the conclusion of new agreements in the future. In any case, such negotiations are in progress with a number of countries,” specified the Minister.

On 18 January, Dmitry Mironchik, spokesman for Belarus’ Foreign Ministry, revealed that Belarus and Hong Kong would launch a mutual visa-free regime for their citizens on 13 February 2018. The regime is for a maximum travel time of 14 days. Hong Kong’s Immigration Department announced the same on 25 January 2018.

On 16 January, Armenia’s National Assembly ratified a draft law officialising an agreement on short-term visa-free travel for ordinary citizens of Armenia and Tajikistan. The result was the coming into force of the agreement, which enables visa-free travel for up to 90 days in any six-month period.

At a press conference held on 22 January, the Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Pavlo Klimkin, said that the Ukraine was “currently conducting such negotiations regarding full liberalization or simplification of the visa regime with more than 20 countries” – indicating that freedom of travel is among the Ukraine’s priorities for 2018.

In an interview given on the last weekend of January, Ukrainian Ambassador Olexander Nechytaylo called for the Philippines to come to a visa-free travel agreement with the Ukraine. Mr Nechytaylo said that the number of tourists travelling to the Philippines from the Ukraine would rise dramatically, mirroring the high number of arrivals from the Ukraine to ASEAN countries (such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand) following the Ukraine’s receipt of visa-free travel to those countries.

On 31 January, Ireland granted 90-day visa-free travel to citizens of the United Arab Emirates. “I am very pleased we have been able to lift the visa requirement for citizens of the UAE who wish to travel to Ireland and we look forward to welcoming increased numbers of Emirati businesspeople, students, and tourists who will travel to Ireland following the lifting of the visa requirement,” said Charlie Flanagan, Irish Minister for Justice and Equality, as he announced the change on 22 January 2018.

Americas

On the evening of 30 January, as part of his first State of the Union Address, President Donald Trump revealed his plan for immigration reform in the United States. The plan has four key pillars. First, it creates a path to citizenship for 1.8 million youths who entered the United States illegally with their parents.

Second, it envisions the building of a wall to prevent illegal immigration. Third, it ends the United States’ visa lottery system, currently enabling people of diverse backgrounds to obtain a Green Card. Finally, it limits the extent to which applicants can include dependants in their applications. “Under our plan, we focus on the immediate family by limiting sponsorships to spouses and minor children,” said the President.

Asia

In early January, Taiwan restated its appeal to the Philippines to establish visa-free travel for Taiwanese nationals. Since 1 November 2017, Filipinos have benefited from a two-week visa-free travel regime to Taiwan. The regime is temporary and, unless renewed, due for expiry on 31 July 2018. Gary Lin, the representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO), said that visa-free travel for Taiwanese citizens would “not hurt” the Philippines, but rather increase investments from Taiwan.

On 8 January, South Korea’s Ministry of Justice announced that the country would implement a 30-day visa-free ‘extended stay’ travel regime to facilitate attendance at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games. The regime adds 30 days of visa-free travel to any other number of visa-free days normally applying to the foreign beneficiary. Applications for extended stays must include evidence of a ticket to the Olympics and be submitted to the Korea Immigration Service by 16 March 2018. South Korea will host the Olympics from 9-25 February 2018, and the Paralympics from 8-18 March 2018.

On 29 January, the Government of South Korea announced it was considering a temporary visa-free travel regime for citizens of China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. With respect to Chinese nationals, the Government said it was studying a 15-day visa waiver for those with tickets to the Olympics valued at 200,000 won (around US$190). With respect to citizens of Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, the Government said it was studying a 15-day visa waiver for tourists travelling in groups of at least five individuals.

On 11 January, Tajik media reported that Tajikistan and Uzbekistan had agreed to lift visa requirements for short-stay travel after a meeting between Prime Ministers Qohir Rasulzoda of Tajikistan and Abdulla Aripov of Uzbekistan. With details yet to be fully negotiated, it was however suggested that the regime would entail 30-day visa-free travel, and that it would come hand in hand with improved transportation between the Tajik and Uzbek centres.

In a 16 January press briefing, Uzbek Head of the State Committee for Tourism Aziz Abdukhakimov said the country was readying to launch visa-free travel for five nations, and to facilitate visa requirements for citizens of another 40 countries. Uzbekistan is also planning to introduce visa-free travel for the three nations that currently provide the highest inflow of pilgrims to Uzbekistan.

On 16 January, China granted visa-free travel to citizens of the United Arab Emirates for a period of up to 30 days. The grant followed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by the Assistant Under-Secretary for Consular Affairs at the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Ahmed Saeed Elham Al Dhaheri, and China’s Ambassador to the UAE, Ni Jian.

Following a meeting on 16 January between Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and US President Donald Trump, Mr Nazarbayev said he “hope[d] and expect[ed]” that the United States would reciprocate Kazakhstan’s grant of visa-free travel for US citizens. In 2015, Kazakhstan extended a temporary 30-day visa-free programme for US citizens.

In late January, Kazakhstan said it had plans to implement a 72-hour visa-free transit regime for citizens of India. Kazakhstan implemented a similar, temporary regime for Chinese nationals, which is due for renewal at the end of 2018.

Despite expressions of hope to the contrary, particularly on the part of Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, in mid-January the United States’ Ambassador to Malaysia, Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, said there were no concrete plans to include Malaysia in the Visa Waiver Programme in the near future. Indeed, said the Ambassador, the United States had no such inclusion plans for any country.

On 19 January, Pakistan’s Ministry of the Interior announced plans to provide visas-on-arrival to tourists from 24 nations flying to Pakistan through approved travel operators. The 24 nations include China, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and a majority of the Schengen member states. Beneficiaries will be able to visit Pakistan for 30 days, said the Ministry.

On 25 January, at the ASEAN Tourism Forum 2018, the President of the Federation of ASEAN Travel Associations (FATA), Hamzah Rahmat, urged the European Union to waive short-term travel visas for citizens of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). “Most European nationals are able to travel in ASEAN without a visa, so [ASEAN nationals] should get the same treatment,” noted the President. ASEAN is composed of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Africa

On 1 January, Rwanda officially opened its borders to citizens of all countries, establishing a global visas-on-arrival regime for visits of up to 30 days. The visas-on-arrival are free except for citizens of Australia, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, who must pay a US$30 fee.

Citizens of the East African Community (which includes – in addition to RwandaBurundi, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda) may receive a free, six-month, renewable visitor pass.

Citizens of Benin, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Indonesia, Haiti, Mauritius, the Philippines, Senegal, the Seychelles, Sao Tome and Principe, and Singapore, may remain in Rwanda for a period of 90 days thanks to favourable bilateral agreements with Rwanda.

On 10 January, Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, noted “some obstacles” to the execution of the “Four Freedoms Convention”– an agreement envisioning full visa-free travel for citizens of Egypt and Sudan. Sudanese officials reportedly accused Egypt of delaying the agreement by the making of requests to restrict entry for certain Sudanese citizens.

In a press conference held on 10 January, the Foreign Minister of Equatorial Guinea, Agapito Mba Mokuy, officially announced the country’s suspension of the visa-on-arrival regime inaugurated with the members of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) in late 2017. CEMAC includes Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon.

On 25 January, Cape Verde announced plans to establish visa waiver regimes for citizens of Canada, the United States, and European countries not included in the Schengen Area. The announcement was made by Cape Verde’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Communities, Luís Filipe Tavares, who also noted that countries in the Schengen Area were expected to receive visa-free access to Cape Verde in May 2018.

In his acceptance speech as the year’s new Chairman of the African Union, Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, said “freedom of movement of persons is achievable in 2018.” The speech was delivered on 28 January at the 30th session of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

On 31 January, on the side-lines of the 30th African Union Summit, Burkina Faso and the United Arab Emirates signed a Memorandum of Understanding waiving short-term visas for holders of Emirati diplomatic, regular, private, and VIP passports entering Burkina Faso.

Oceania

On 10 January, an agreement signed between Fiji and Argentina on 22 September 2017 came into effect, liberalising short-term travel for citizens of the two nations. Fijians may travel to Argentina for 90 days, while Argentinians may travel to Fiji for four months.

“The visa-free entry into Argentina will encourage Fijian businesses to explore possibilities for expanding business and trade to South America. This will also encourage visits by sporting teams and tourism activities between both countries thus, solidifying cultural and people-to-people relationship,” said the Permanent Secretary to Fiji’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ioane Naivalurua.