Visa-Free Digest: February 2017

Europe

On 2 February, the European Parliament passed a law authorising citizens of Georgia to travel visa-free within the Schengen Area. The signing ceremony of the visa-free travel agreement took place on 1 March 2017, together with the coming into force of the European Union’s suspension mechanism allowing member states to halt visa-free travel at short notice. The move is expected to bring Georgia, a former member of the USSR, closer to Western Europe. South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway regions, both criticised the move as an attempt to bring citizens of the regions into Georgia’s political sphere.
An agreement signed between Russia and Bangladesh on 22 September 2016 came into force on 12 February 2017, allowing holders of diplomatic and official passports visa-free access for a period not to exceed 30 days.
Russia and Iran are due to sign a visa-free travel agreement for large tourist groups in March 2017, when Iranian President Rouhani is scheduled to travel to Moscow. Mr Levan Dzhagaryan, Russia’s Ambassador to Iran, confirmed the diplomatic plans in early February. The agreement is expected to apply to citizens travelling in groups of between 5 and 50.
In mid-February, Russia obtained the right for its ordinary citizens to travel to Armenia visa-free. “This will strengthen the cooperation in such [an] important area as humanitarian human dimension,” said Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
On 18 February Russia’s President, Mr Vladimir Putin, signed an executive order granting citizens of the Ukraine living in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, as well as other stateless persons living in the Ukraine and issued with valid ID documents, the right to enter Russia visa-free. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the new rule was a “violation of international law,” while the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) and Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) rejoiced at the news.
On 8 February, the Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers officialised an agreement with the Albanian Cabinet of Ministers to enable their citizens to travel within each other’s territories for a period of up to 90 days. The respective Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Ukraine and Albania had signed the agreement in November 2016.
On 10 February, at the Fifth Meeting of the Joint Strategic Planning Group in Kiev, Foreign Ministers Pavlo Klimkin of the Ukraine and Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey completed measures to allow their citizens to travel across each other’s borders without needing to present a passport, but rather only needing to show their state-issued ID.
In mid-February, Belgium’s State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, Mr Theo Francken, said that he feared the current rights exercised by citizens of Belgium under the United States Visa Waiver Program (VWP) may soon be altered or lost. “The Americans are not entirely happy with the amount of information they receive from us […] We have been given 3 months to prove we can meet the demands,” specified Mr Francken.
On 13 February, the Foreign Ministers of Latvia and Azerbaijan agreed to lift visa restrictions for holders of service passports. The agreement is expected to be followed by a number of bilateral agreements, particularly for trade and agriculture.

Caribbean

On 14 February, the High Commissioner of St Kitts and Nevis to the United Kingdom and Ireland, H.E. Dr Kevin Isaac, and the High Commissioner of Sierra Leone to the United Kingdom and Ireland, H.E. Edwards M. Turay, signed an agreement to lift visa requirements for citizens travelling to their respective nations. The agreement provides for visa-free travel for a period of up to 90 days. H.E. Dr Isaac noted that the agreement was due to create a “bridge across the Atlantic” for the people of their two nations, and strengthen Caribbean-African relations.

Americas

The United States is mulling over the introduction of new measures requiring visa applicants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen to submit the passwords they use for social media. The announcement was made on 7 February by Mr John Kelly, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. In 2016, the United States introduced an optional question on the entry forms for travellers entering on the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) asking for social media usernames.
In mid-February, a proposal was also put forward by the United States’ Customs and Border Protection to include an optional question on social media for citizens of China holding 10-year visas. The question would appear on the Electronic Visa Update System (EVUS) form, which must be completed every time a Chinese national holding a 10-year visa enters the United States.

Middle East

In early February, local media reported that Kuwait imposed an entry ban on citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Syria. The ban is similar to the one imposed by the United States on seven countries through an executive order of President Donald Trump.

Asia

In early February, India eased visa procedures for citizens of Pakistan, extending tourist travel visas to one year with multiple entries of 90 days. There must, however, be a gap of 60 days between visits. Business visas were also improved, remaining valid for between 1 and 5 years and enabling the businessperson to remain in India for a period of up to 180 days.
India also launched a new incentive scheme for those travelling to the country on an e-visa: a free SIM card allowing limited talk time and data services to communicate abroad. The complimentary SIM card is available to travellers landing at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, but is expected to extend to multiple airports across the country.
Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, said in early February that Indian tourists living outside of India could travel to Malaysia visa-free, so long as they passed Airline Passenger Security Screening (APSS).
Malaysia also removed fees for Indians obtaining an e-visa. On 16 February, Malaysia’s Minister of Tourism and Culture announced that Indian travellers will only be charged a processing fee, costing US$20.
On 7 February, Thailand announced it would be extending its free visa programme from May 2017 to August 2017. The programme encompasses nationals from Andorra, Bhutan, Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, the Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, the Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. It also reduces fees for those travelling on a visa-upon-arrival regime.

Africa

On 23 February, at a meeting held in Abu Dhabi between Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary, and Reem Ebrahim Al-Hashimy, the United Arab Emirates’ State Minister for International Cooperation, Kenya and the UAE penned a Memorandum of Understanding granting mutual visa-free travel rights for holders of diplomatic passports.