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October’s Visa Free Digest 2019

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:

Antigua and BarbudaEstoniaKuwaitRussia
AzerbaijanEuropean UnionLiechtensteinSamoa
BahamasGeorgiaMacauSaudi Arabia
BahrainGrenadaMarshall IslandsSingapore
BarbadosGuamMalaysiaSolomon Islands
BelarusGuatemalaMaldivesSouth Korea
BelizeGulf Cooperation CouncilMauritiusSri Lanka
BoliviaHaitiMexicoSt Kitts and Nevis
BRICSHondurasMongoliaSt Lucia
BulgariaHong KongNamibiaSt Vincent and the Grenadines
CambodiaHungaryNauruThailand
Central African RepublicIcelandNicaraguaTrinidad and Tobago
ChinaIndiaNorwayTurkey
CommonwealthIndonesiaOmanTuvalu
ColombiaIranPakistanUkraine
Costa RicaIsraelPalauUnited Arab Emirates
CubaJamaicaPanamaUnited Kingdom
DominicaJapanParaguayUnited States
Dominican RepublicJordanPeruUruguay
East TimorKazakhstanPhilippinesUzbekistan
EcuadorKiribatiPolandVatican
El SalvadorKosovoQatarVietnam

Check our September’s Visa Free Digest for more updates.


Europe

Named relevant countries: Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, United Kingdom, Belarus, Uruguay, European Union, Kosovo, Colombia, Ecuador, Grenada, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mongolia, Nauru, Palau, Peru, Samoa, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, United States, Bulgaria, Georgia, Paragua

At the Plenary Session of the 5th Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), held in Vladivostok, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that Japan should be more willing to provide visa-free access to certain groups of people associated with Russia. He said that, in light of Russia having allowed Japanese citizens who formerly resided on the Kuril Islands (now a Russian territory) visa-free access to the islands on an exclusive basis, it was “strange” that Japan refused “to issue visas not to a specific citizen, but, let’s say, to all Crimeans.”

On 11 September, the Estonian Interior Minister, Mart Helme, revealed that he had launched an investigation on whether it is possible to block visa-free travel for citizens of Ukraine, something that was granted to the nation as a result of an agreement signed by the Schengen Member States. The Minister justified the move on the basis that Estonia “is under migration pressure from the East.” However, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Urmas Reinsalu, said that the “unilateral abolition of visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens by the Republic of Estonia is neither reasonable nor legally possible.”

On 18 September, the British International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said that Australians may be able to live and work in the United Kingdom, and vice-versa, without needing to apply for a visa as part of a wide-ranging post-Brexit trade deal. “We want a fully comprehensive trade deal that reflects our deep, ongoing relationship, the friendship between our two countries, the fact that Australians want to come and live and work in Britain, and Brits want to come and live and work in Australia,” said the International Trade Secretary. However, one month prior, Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said that it was unlikely that Australia would grant British citizens these rights, which are currently available to New Zealanders only. “The New Zealand arrangement is quite unique and it’s not one we would probably ever contemplate extending,” he specified.

On 18 September, Aleksandr Lukashenko, President of Belarus, signed a decree approving a draft agreement to waive visa requirements for citizens of Uruguay. Next, Belarus’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs will commence negotiations with Uruguay to ensure the signing of the draft agreement.

On 24 September, the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties voted to award Kosovo visa-free travel to the Schengen Area. The vote, which yielded the same result as two previous votes on the matter, was necessary due to the EU general elections held in May 2019. The European Council, however, has yet to approve the move. The delay is chiefly attributed to opposition from EU member states that have yet to recognise Kosovo as an independent sovereign state, including Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain.

On 24 September, Ukraine and Colombia signed a visa-free travel agreement for their citizens. The agreement was signed by the Foreign Ministers of the two nations: Ukraine’s Vadym Prystaiko and Colombia’s Carlos Holmes Trujillo. “Welcome to Colombia!” commented the Ukrainian Foreign Minister on Twitter.

On 25 September, Ukraine signed a visa-free travel agreement with Ecuador. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko commented on the agreement on his Twitter feed, noting that Ecuador “is the 21st country in Latin America with which [Ukraine has] a visa-free regime” and that Ukraine is continuing to “open the doors for our citizens.” The agreement allows visa-free travel for up to 90 days.

On 26 September, Ukraine and Grenada established diplomatic relations. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Vadym Prystaiko, commented that that the joint communique on establishing diplomatic relations was signed with his Grenadian counterpart, Peter Charles David, and that the two had agreed on mutual visa-free movement as a next step in the relations between the two nations.

On 26 September, Ukraine signed an agreement with Sri Lanka to enable holders of diplomatic, service, or official passports to enter each other’s territories without a visa. The agreement was signed by Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Vadym Prystaiko, and Sri Lanka’s Foreign Affairs Secretary, Ravinatha Aryasinha.

At the end of September, the Ukrainian Cabinet submitted a programme underlining its intent to sign an additional 14 visa-free travel agreements over the next five years. The agreements will be signed both with countries that have already provided visa-free travel to Ukraine unilaterally, and with countries to which Ukrainians still need apply for a visa. The 14 countries with which the agreements will be signed include: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Jamaica, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mongolia, Nauru, Palau, Peru, Samoa, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Solomon Islands.

On 25 September, Bulgaria’s President, Rumen Radev, said that further collaboration between his nation and the United States would require more US investments in Bulgaria and the inclusion of Bulgaria in the US Visa Waiver Programme. President Radev was speaking to President Donald Trump on the side-lines of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York. The President’s comments were later echoed by Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva.

On 27 September, Georgia and Paraguay agreed on visa-free travel for their citizens. The formal agreement was signed by Georgia’s Foreign Minister, Davit Zalkaliani, and his Paraguayan counterpart, Antonio Rivas Palacios. On commenting on the agreement, Georgia’s Foreign Minister said: “I hope the visa free regime will effectively promote people-to-people contacts and businesses opportunities.”

Caribbean

Named relevant countries: St Kitts and Nevis, Belarus, Paraguay, Haiti, Dominica, Jamaica, United Arab Emirates

On 9 September, the visa-free travel agreement signed between St Kitts and Nevis and Belarus came into force. The announcement was made by Belarus’ Embassy in Russia. The travel agreement, which affects ordinary passport holders, was originally signed by the two nations on 19 October 2018.

On 27 September, St Kitts and Nevis signed a visa-free agreement with Paraguay. The agreement was penned by the Foreign Minister for St Kitts and Nevis, Mark Brantley, and the Foreign Minister for Paraguay, Antonio Palacios.

On 12 September, Dominica’s Ministry of Justice, Immigration, and National Security, reinstated visa requirements on nationals of Haiti. Ordinary passport holders from Haiti will now need to apply for a visa prior to entering Dominica, with the exception of those holding visas to Canada, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, or the United States. Additionally, the visa requirement does not apply to those holding diplomatic or official passports issued by Haiti.

On 23 September, Jamaica and the United Arab Emirates signed an agreement that facilitates travel for some of their passport holders. Persons with diplomatic and official passports issued by Jamaica will be able to access the United Arab Emirates visa-free. Ordinary passport holders from the United Arab Emirates will be able to enter Jamaica on a visa-on-arrival. The agreement was signed by Jamaican Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith, and Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation Al Hashimy.

Americas

Named relevant countries: United States, Poland, Bahamas, Hungary

On 2 September, the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, said that Poland was “nearing eligibility” for the US Visa Waiver Programme. On 23 September 2019, on the side-lines of the United Nations General Assembly, United States President Donald Trump similarly stated that the acceptance of Poland into the Programme was “in the works.” Polish President Andrzej Duda also confirmed this, noting that Poland could receive visa-free travel rights before Christmas 2019. President Trump first announced that Poland could become a member of the Visa Waiver Programme in September 2018.

On 4 September, Republican Senators of the United States Marco Rubio and Rick Scott sent a letter to President Donald Trump requesting that his administration “waive, or otherwise suspend, certain visa requirements for affected citizens of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas who have relatives in the United States with whom they can reside as they begin the process of rebuilding their lives and their country.” The letter follows Hurricane Dorian, which made landfall in the Bahamas on 1 September 2019.

On 23 September, the United States agreed to extend the visa-free travel rights it had previously awarded citizens of Hungary. Future extensions of visa-free travel rights for Hungarian citizens, however, are dependent on certain legislative changes, which Hungary and the United States said they had agreed upon.

Middle East

Named relevant countries: Kazakhstan, Jordan, Iran, Oman

Jordan’s Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Youcef Abdelgani, has said he hopes Kazakhstan will waive visa requirements for citizens of Jordan and that direct flights will be made available between the two countries. The Ambassador made the statements at a meeting with the Chairwoman of the Senate of Kazakhstan, Dariga Nazarbayeva, in mid-September.

On 22 September, the Government of Iran approved a bill granting permanent short-stay visa-free entry for citizens of Oman. Iran had previously implemented a temporary visa-free entry regime for Omanis beginning in September 2018. The move comes in the context of Oman facilitating the visa process for citizens of Iran.

Asia

Named relevant countries: Azerbaijan, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Maldives, India, Pakistan, India, Iceland, Uzbekistan, China, Hong Kong, Uzbekistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Malaysia, Mongolia, Paraguay, Japan, United States, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Bahrain, Colombia, Indonesia, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Vatican, Vietnam, Argentina, Macau

On 1 September, Azerbaijan waived visa requirements for citizens of Turkey wishing to visit the country for up to 30 days. However, Turks remaining for more than 15 days must register with the Azerbaijani local police. News of the change was broken on 25 July 2019 by Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu.

On 2 September, Sri Lanka and the Maldives penned a visa-on-arrival agreement allowing for up to 90 days of travel for their citizens. Citizens availing themselves of the regime would still need to show a valid passport and enough funds to support their stay.

On 4 September, India and Pakistan agreed that pilgrims from India could visit the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, located in Pakistan, without a visa by making use of the Kartarpur Corridor facility. The same privilege was also accorded to persons holding an OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) Card. Some discord was however produced by Pakistan’s suggestion that a service fee be paid for visiting the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib. On 16 September, the Project Director for the Kartarpur Corridor, Atif Majid, said that 86 percent of the Corridor had been completed, and that it was scheduled for opening on 9 November 2019.

On 10 September, India and Iceland signed a Memorandum of Understanding on visa-free travel for diplomatic and official passport holders. The Memorandum was signed during Indian President Ram Nath Kovind’s State Visit to Iceland.

On 12 September, the President of Uzbekistan issued a decree to allow citizens of China and Hong Kong visa-free access to the nation beginning from 1 January 2020. Visa-free entry will be allowed for those flying into Uzbek airports and wanting to remain in Uzbekistan for periods of up to seven days. Earlier in the year, Uzbekistan announced a similar visa-free entry regime, also due to begin on 1 January 2020, for citizens of several Caribbean and American states for stays of up to 30 days. The states include Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.

In mid-September, Hainan said it would expand its visa-free travel regime to an additional eight nations. Currently, people from 59 countries can enter the territory for up to 30 days so long as their trip was booked via a travel agency. The announcement was made by Hainan’s vice-governor, Shen Danyang. Hainan is an island-province of China, located in the South China Sea.

On 17 September, Muhyiddin Yassin, Minister of Home Affairs of Malaysia, attended a meeting with Kevin McAleenan, Acting United States Secretary of Homeland Security, to revive discussions on visa-free travel for Malaysian citizens under the Visa Waiver Programme. “McAleenan has agreed to take it to the higher level at my request, but before that, we need to take into account the things that have so far been a hindrance, in terms of additional criteria and conditions,” said the Minister, who also proposed the establishment of a committee to ensure the Programme could be accessed smoothly.

On 25 September, Mongolia and Paraguay signed an agreement exempting holders of diplomatic, official, and ordinary passports from needing to obtain visas for short-term travel. The agreement was penned by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs for the two nations: Mongolia’s D.Tsogtbaatar and Paraguay’s Antonio Rivas Palacios.

On 29 September, Thailand’s Public Health Minister (and Deputy Prime Minister), Anutin Charnvirakul, and Tourism and Sports Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitparkarn, said they had approved in principle the addition of Japan and the United States to Thailand’s visa waiver programme for persons seeking medical treatment. The programme enables stays in Thailand of up to 90 days, and currently applies to persons from the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) and from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam.

On 30 September, Kazakhstan saw the entry into force of a decree allowing 12 additional countries to partake in its already 45 country-strong visa-free travel scheme. The scheme enables stays of up to 30 calendar days without a visa. The 12 countries now included in the scheme are Bahrain, Colombia, Indonesia, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Oman, the Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, the Vatican, and Vietnam.

On 30 September, Macau’s Chief Executive, Fernando Chui Sai, signed a decree allowing the Secretary for Administration and Justice, Sónia Chan Hoi Fan, to sign a visa-free travel agreement with Argentina. Macau has a unique visa free travel regime, as a result of it being a Special Administrative Region of China.

Africa

Named relevant countries: Sierra Leone, European Union, United Kingdom, United States, Commonwealth, Gulf Cooperation Council, BRICS, Bolivia, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Japan, Macau, Norway, Samoa, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, Tuvalu, Vietnam, Angola, Qatar, Central African Republic, United Arab Emirates, Namibia

On 5 September, Sierra Leone launched a visa-on-arrival policy for citizens of the European Union (including the United Kingdom), the United States, the member states of the Commonwealth, the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the member states of BRICS, and Bolivia, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Japan, Macau, Norway, Samoa, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, Tuvalu, and Vietnam. Citizens of these nations may enter Sierra Leone upon payment of a US$80 fee. Sierra Leone allows visa-free entry for all citizens of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and for nationals of countries that allow Sierra Leonians to travel visa-free. Sierra Leone charges a US$25 visa-on-arrival fee for citizens of the member states of the African Union that are non-members of ECOWAS.

On 8 September, Angola and Qatar signed six agreements, among which a “Diplomatic and Special Passport Visa Waiver Agreement.” The agreement will affect persons holding diplomatic and special passports, but not holders of ordinary passports.

On 8 September, the Central African Republic and the United Arab Emirates signed an agreement allowing Emiratis to travel to the Central African Republic for up to 90 days. The exemption applies to those holding diplomatic, special, and ordinary passports. The signatories to the agreement were the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Central African Republic, Sylvie Baipo-Temon, and the Emirati Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The agreement will come into force one month after signature, on 8 October 2019.

On 25 September, Namibia inaugurated a visa-on-arrival regime for citizens of 47 nations, of which 27 are African. Commencing at Namibia’s Hosea Kutako International Airport, Walvis Bay International Airport, and Katima Mulilo border post, the regime is anticipated to extend to all the country’s entry points. “The decision by Namibia to implement a visa on arrival [regime] is in line with [the] African Union[‘s] drive to promote a visa free Africa as well part of Namibia to improve the economy through tourism,” said Namibia’s Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration, Frans Kapofi.

Oceania

Named relevant countries: Guam, Philippines, Kiribati, United Arab Emirates

The Government of Guam is continuing to lobby the United States in order to obtain visa-free travel for citizens of the Philippines. On 5 September, former Governor of Guam Carl Gutierrez met Filipino boxer and Senator Manny Pacquiao and Representative Rufus Bautista Rodriguez to seal their support for the initiative. “I’m confident that Sen. Pacquiao and Congressman Rodriguez’s unqualified support for this worthwhile initiative will go a long way to encourage travel between the Philippines and Guam,” said the Gutierrez. In mid-September, he provided further details of his lobbying strategy, stating that “Guam is unique,” and not subject to the same issues of visa overstays as the United States mainland: “In fact, we’re not part of the 40 percent overstays as the United States are with the Filipinos. We’re 1 to 3 percent overstays.” Gutierrez was tasked with including the Philippines in the Guam-CNMI Waiver Programme by current Governor Lou Leon Guerrero.

On 26 September, Kiribati and the United Arab Emirates signed an agreement for the mutual exemption of visa requirements for their citizens. The agreement was signed by the UAE’s Minister of State for International Cooperation, Reem bint Ibrahim Al Hashemy, and Kiribati’s President, Beretitenti Taneti Maamau. It is expected to come into force on 23 October 2019.