On 12 January, the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Commission voted to approve visa-free travel for citizens of Georgia within the Schengen Area. The vote allowed the European Parliament to decide the matter in February.
In early January, following two months of visa-free travel for tourists visiting the Hrodna Region in Belarus, the Head of the Hrodna Region Executive Committee, Uladzimir Kraucou, recommended expanding the visa-free provisions. At the time, visa-free travel was only open to those who could reach the Hrodna Region by car or bus. Mr Kraucou proposed opening visa-free travel even to those entering the region by train and plane.
On 9 January, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed Decree No. 8 allowing citizens from 80 nations to enter Belarus through Minsk National Airport visa-free. The Decree, scheduled to come into force on 12 February, allows stays of up to 5 days, but travellers must show sufficient funds and medical insurance valid in Belarus. Citizens of all the European Union and Schengen member states are exempt from obtaining visas, as are the citizens of Brazil, Japan, Indonesia, the United States, Samoa, Vanuatu, Micronesia, and more. Those holding passports from China, Gambia, Haiti, Honduras, India, Lebanon, Namibia, Samoa, and Vietnam may enter without a visa so long as they can show a valid visa to any of the EU or Schengen countries listed in the Decree, with a mark showing entry into the European country. They must also show return flights scheduled from Minsk National Airport within 5 days of entry. As there are no border controls with Russia, the Decree does not apply to those flying into Belarus from or on their way to Russia.
Switzerland decided to grant Ukrainians visa-free travel as soon as the European Union finalises its own visa-free agreement with the Ukraine. The decision was announced on 17 January by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, following talks with Swiss President Doris Leuthard.
In early January, the Foreign Affairs Minister of St Kitts and Nevis, the Honourable Mark Brantley, said he is hopeful that Canada will see his twin-islands as “a small nation, but a nation that is serious about its international commitments and obligations,” and that visa-free travel for Kittitians and Nevisians would not be long in being approved by the Canadian authorities.
On 4 January, Dr the Right Honourable Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister of Grenada, welcomed Russian Ambassador Nikolay Smimov. The Prime Minister and the Ambassador agreed on a Memorandum of Understanding outlining mutual 90-day visa-free travel for holders of all Grenadian and Russian passports, to be implemented in the near future. The establishment of a Grenadian Diplomatic Mission in Russia was also discussed.
On 11 January, Mr Brodrick Penn, the Permanent Secretary at the Premier’s Office of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), said that his nation was considering visa-free travel for citizens of China. Mr Penn stressed that Chinese nationals were the highest contributors to worldwide tourism in 2016, and noted that the BVI had also applied to receive ‘approved destination status’ in China, allowing the country to market its tourism proposals to in the People’s Republic.
Days prior to leaving office, President Barack Obama put an end to a longstanding United States policy allowing citizens of Cuba who reached US shores to enter the country without a visa and apply for permanent residence. The policy, known as the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy, was lifted on 13 January in an effort to improve relations with Cuba.
An executive order issued by President Trump on 27 January suspended travel to the United States for nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for a period of 90 days, whether those nationals hold valid visas or Green Cards. The same order also suspended travel for refugees for a period of 120 days, and from any refugee from Syria indefinitely. The order has been highly criticised, and its implementation has been suspended in the Federal Courts. The order follows a draft executive order by President Trump released at the end of January suggesting that the United States might put an end to its Visa Waiver Program (WVP), which currently allows citizens from 38 countries, including most of Europe, visa-free travel for a period not exceeding 90 days. Travellers would instead have to submit to an interview. The draft order also outlined a suspension of refugee intake for at least 4 months. Finally, the draft order also contained details on a ban for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen – as well as for anyone who travelled to these countries since 2011 – for at least 30 days.
Costa Rica and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have signed a mutual visa waiver protocol to exempt holders of ordinary and special mission passports from having to obtain pre-entry visas. The protocol, signed on 16 January by Costa Rican Minister of Foreign Affairs Manuel Gonzales Sanz and UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, amends a previous agreement that only allowed visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic and special passports.
On 11 January, Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Russia was in the process of reviewing visa-free travel for Turkish nationals. “Businessmen and official delegations will benefit initially,” noted a Ministry spokesman. Turkey and Russia seem to have reconciled following a joint peace-brokering agreement in Syria and resumed dialogue regarding a gas pipeline that would enable Russia to export is gas to Turkey and the European mainland.
On 17 January, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates and of Kyrgyzstan signed a Memorandum of Understanding pertaining to visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic passports. The Memorandum was signed during the 15th Ministerial Meeting of the Asia Co-operation Dialogue, which took place in Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s capital city.
Iran and Kazakhstan have agreed to lift visa requirements for tourists travelling in groups of between 5 and 50 people for a period not exceeding 90 days. The agreement, which came in late January, was made between the two countries’ Director Generals for Consular Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, and is due to be implemented in March. A similar agreement with Russia is also due to be implemented in March.
India prolonged the deadline to convert Person of Indian Origin (PIO) cards into Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cards for free. The new deadline, announced the Government in early January, would now be 30 June 2017. OCI cards act as lifetime visas, allowing holders to travel within India for an unlimited time, as well as to enter multiple times into the country.
On 6 January, Indonesia’s Minister of Law and Human Rights Affairs, Mr Yassona Laoly, said that the country would be reviewing its visa-free policy currently allowing nationals of 169 countries to enter the country visa-free. He noted that the review was independent of allegations that several Chinese nationals were overstaying their entry rights to work illegally in Indonesia.
On 9 January, Uzbekistan’s official legislation website published a 29 December decree postponing the nation’s scheme to open its borders to visa-free travel by 1 April 2017. The scheme, now due to be implemented across Uzbekistan on 1 January 2021, proposes visa-free entry for up to 30 days for citizens of Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. It also applies to citizens aged 55 or over from Belgium, China, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Malaysia, Poland, Portugal, the United States, and Vietnam.
On 24 January, the President of Uzbekistan, Mr Shavkat Mirziyoyev, published a decree recommending the end of exit visas for Uzbek citizens. The practice is a remnant of the policies that characterised the Soviet Union. Experts have greeted the decree with caution, questioning how it will be implemented, and what system will substitute the current regime.
On 19 January, Armenia approved a proposal to sign a visa-free agreement with the United Arab Emirates. Mr Shavarsh Kocharyan, Armenia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, said the Government’s goal was to “boost tourism and business cooperation.”
On 23 January, Hong Kong ended a policy allowing Indians to travel to the autonomous territory visa-free for a period of 14 days. The change was first announced in mid-December amidst complaints that asylum claims by citizens of India were growing exponentially. Indians must now complete an online pre-registration procedure prior to entering Hong Kong.
Speaking on 23 January, Mr Syed Muazzem Ali, Bangladesh’s High Commissioner to India, said that his nation was trying to “establish a co-operative visa regime,” in the hopes that it may soon turn into a visa-free scheme. Mr Ali also said that people aged 65 and above could shortly benefit from 5-year long-term visas, allowing them to visit Bangladesh and family members that may reside there.
At the end of January, Kyrgyzstan ratified two agreements for the mutual waiver of visas for holders of diplomatic and service passports from Switzerland and Laos. The ratification was completed by Parliament’s Committee for Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Security.
Kyrgyzstan also granted visa-free entry rights to citizens of Qatar travelling to Kyrgyzstan for a period of up to 60 days.
On 31 January, South Africa announced it would be launching a mutual visa-free regime for holders of Russian ordinary passports. The announcement follows the signing of an instruction on 18 January by President Medvedev to end visa requirements for holders of South African ordinary passports travelling for a period of no more than 90 days. It is expected that the new regime will come into force in February 2017, when South Africa and Russia will be celebrating 25 years of diplomatic relations.
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Starting on 24 January, holders of diplomatic, service, and ordinary passports from Papua New Guinea and Israel will be able to enter each other’s territories visa-free. Papua New Guineans will be able to remain in Israel for a period of 90 days, while Israelis will be able to remain in Papua New Guinea for 60 days.
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