Visa-Free Digest: April 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:

EUROPENamed relevant countries: European Union, United Kingdom, South Africa, Schengen Area, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Argentina, Russia, Algeria, Bahrain, Brunei, China, India, Iran, Japan, Kuwait, Mexico, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Turkey
AMERICASNamed relevant countries: United States, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Switzerland, Brunei, Philippines, Thailand, South Korea, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, China, Japan, United Arab Emirates
MIDDLE EASTNamed relevant countries: Iran, Russia, Indonesia, European Union, Turkey
ASIANamed relevant countries: Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Switzerland, Brunei, Philippines, Thailand, South Korea, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, China, Japan, United Arab Emirates
AFRICANamed relevant countries: Sudan, Egypt, South Africa, Mozambique

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


Europe

On 4 April, only a few days after Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 to commence formal Brexit negotiations, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) said the British Government must prioritise visa-free travel between the European Union and the United Kingdom. “Travel and tourism is one of the UK’s largest industries and it is vital that the Government makes sure it can continue to thrive during and after the negotiations,” said ABTA’s Chief Executive.

On 5 April, the Royal Commonwealth Society presented a petition to 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the British Prime Minister, to reinstate visa-free travel rights for citizens of South Africa. The petition received signatures both from British and South African citizens. South Africa lost visa-free travel rights to the United Kingdom in 2008.

On 6 April, the European Parliament voted to allow Ukrainians to travel to the Schengen Area visa-free for up to 90 days, so long as they hold valid biometric passports. Citizens of the Ukraine are expected to see the visa-free regime implemented by Summer 2017. The Ukraine’s Department of Consular Service of the Foreign Ministry announced that visa-free rights extended to all Ukrainian citizens living in the Crimea and possessing valid biometric passports. On 28 April, President Petro Poroshenko said the Ukraine expected the visa-free regime with the Schengen Area to come into force on 11 June 2017. He noted that the regime would be a milestone in Ukrainian history, moving the country “away from the Russian Empire and return[ing it] to the European cradle.”

Having noted the success of Eastern European countries like Georgia and the Ukraine, on 7 April Azerbaijan made calls to eliminate or relax visa procedures for Azerbaijanis wishing to enter the European Union. The loudest voice was that of Zahid Oruj, a member of Azerbaijan’s National Assembly. Azerbaijan however has a history of non-cooperation with the European Union, for example, by failing to comply with the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. On 21 April, the EU’s Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Mr Herbert Salber, said that visa-free travel was possible, but that negotiations were still at early stages.

Similar calls were made on 12 April by Armenia’s Foreign Minister, Mr Edward Nalbandian. Attending the Foreign Ministers of the EU Eastern Partnership and Visegrad 4 Meeting in Warsaw, Mr Nalbandian said that the many visa facilitation treaties between the European Union and Armenia should now be followed by the implementation of a visa-free regime.

 Kazakhstan also said it was hopeful for a facilitation of visa requirements for citizens eager to travel to the European Union, following a mid-April meeting between the Kazakh Foreign Minister and a delegation of the German Parliament. Earlier in 2017, Kazakhstan changed its laws to allow visa-free entry for citizens of the European Union for a maximum period of 30 days.

On 10 April, Belarus passed a law to ratify a visa-free travel agreement signed with Argentina in October 2016. The agreement allows citizens of Belarus and Argentina to stay within each others’ territories for a period not exceeding 90 days.

Home to the 2019 European Games, Belarus is planning on extending visa-free travel rights to those who will be partaking or watching the sporting events. The announcement was made on 13 April by Maksim Ryzhenkov, who is the First Deputy Head of Belarus’ President’s Administration and the First Vice President of the National Olympic Committee.

On 17 April, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree allowing businesspersons and tourists from 18 nations to enter Vladivostok through simplified visa procedures. Vladivostok is a port city located in Russia’s far-eastern region. The 18 nations include Algeria, Bahrain, Brunei, China, India, Iran, Japan, Kuwait, Mexico, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. The decree will come into force in August 2017, allowing travel for a period of 30 days after the issuance of an electronic, single entry visa at the Russian border.

On 22 April, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr Alexei Meshkov, said that Russia was in the process of further liberalising travel for Turkish nationals, particularly truck drivers, airline staff, and businesspersons. The move signals better relations between Russia and Turkey, which had ended several visa-free travel agreements in 2016.

Americas

In early April, it was revealed that the Trump administration is likely to issue new regulations for foreigners entering the United States, including having to provide access to personal social media and data contained on travellers’ cell phones. The regulations are expected to apply to all foreigners travelling to the United States, including those on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

On 19 April, Mr John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security, said that the United States would review the VWP: “Not eliminating it and not doing anything excessive… but look very hard at that programme.” The VWP currently allows most European nationals to travel to the United States for a period of 90 days, so long as they apply through the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) – a rapid online procedure requiring applicants to provide details of their origins and trip prior to departing for the United States.

Despite signals to tighten the VWP, many nations are still vying to be a part of the regime. Malaysia is one of these, and the country recently received confirmation that the United States is still considering its entry in the VWP. “Malaysia is working on meeting some requirements and [entry in the VWP] could be discussed at some point in the future,” said Mr Patrick Murphy, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, on 21 April.

Middle East

Details of the travel agreement between Iran and Russia, signed in late March, were revealed in early April. Under the provisions of the agreement, Russian or Iranian tourist groups of between five and fifty people can visit each other’s nations without having to obtain a visa, so long as the visit does not exceed 15 days.

In mid-April Indonesia shed some light on the countries it is removing from its visa-free list: it will be countries whose people do not visit Indonesia frequently, despite the availability of visa-free travel. National security concerns and public perception will also play a part in determining which of the 169 nations currently holding visa-free status will lose that benefit.

On 22 April, Turkey’s Minister for EU Affairs, Mr Omer Celik, warned the European Union that the March 2016 agreement on refugees would be in jeopardy should the EU fail to approve the proposal on visa-free travel to be submitted by Turkey in May 2017. Turkey is currently alleviating the inflow of migrants from war-torn Middle Eastern countries into Europe.

On 23 April, Turkey announced that the maximum period of stay for Russian visitors entering Turkey without a visa would be extended from 60 to 90 days. The announcement, made by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, followed an earlier declaration by the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, saying that Russia was ready to ease travelling for certain Turkish nationals.

Asia

Malaysia relaxed its visa procedures for Indians, who, staring from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018, can apply for a visa without needing to pay a visa charge. Indian tourists are eligible for 15-day, multiple entry visas. The regime change followed a visit by Malaysia’s Prime Minister to India, which commenced on 31 March.

In early April, Pakistan suspended its visa-on-arrival facility, which until then allowed those accompanying diplomatic and official passport holders to receive a 72-hour visa upon landing in the country. The suspension was decided by Mr Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s Minister of the Interior, for fear that it may cause serious irregularities in the country’s immigration system.

Kyrgyzstan ratified a mutual agreement with Switzerland to grant visa-free travel to those holding diplomatic and official passports. The agreement provides for a stay that does not exceed 90 days within a 180-day period.
On 12 April, the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that, starting 1 June 2017, citizens of Brunei, the Philippines, and Thailand would be able to enter the island-nation visa-free for a period not to exceed 30 days.

On 13 April, Mr Raul Hernandez, the Philippines’ Ambassador to South Korea, announced that citizens of the Philippines would be among a select number of Southeast Asians to be awarded visa-free entry to mainland South Korea for a period of five days. The grant of visa-free travel is limited to tourist groups who are planning to visit Jeju Island, but who have connecting flights at Incheon or Gimhae Airports. The visa-free regime is expected to come into force in June.

On 20 April, Azerbaijan announced it would be lifting visa requirements for all accredited persons (including members of the media) and participants in the of the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games, scheduled to take place in Baku from 12 to 22 May. 2017 is the ‘Year of Islamic Solidarity’ in Azerbaijan.

On 21 April, China’s Ambassador to the Ukraine, Mr Du Wei, said that China would be willing to extend visa-free travel to Ukrainian citizens “in accordance with the readiness of the two sides, on the principle of equality and mutual benefit.” The remark was made on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the institution of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Japan is easing travel for citizens of the United Arab Emirates, its Emirati Embassy announced on 24 April 2017. Starting 1 July, citizens of the UAE travelling to Japan on a valid e-passport will not need to apply for and pay for a visa, but rather pre-register for free at any Japanese embassy, Consulate-General, or consular office. The registration certificate will be valid for three years.

Africa

On 6 April, Sudan reinstated visas for Egyptian men aged between 16 and 50, ending a previous visa-free regime. The new visa rule applies to men, but not women. Egypt imposed the same restrictions on Sudanese men a number of years ago.

With effect from 19 April, a visa waiver agreement between South Africa and Mozambique, allowing citizens to enter visa-free for a period of 30 days, was expanded to allow entry for a period of up to 90 days. Entry is allowed for any South African citizen travelling to Mozambique, or any Mozambican travelling to South Africa for tourism, family visits, health care, business, conferences, seminars, workshops, student exchanges, or sport.