Visa-Free Digest: June 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: Qatar, Armenia, Russia, Albania, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Indonesia, Chile, Belarus, Montenegro, Georgia
CARIBBEANNamed relevant countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Canada
AMERICASNamed relevant countries: Hong Kong, United States, Guyana, Colombia, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen
MIDDLE EASTNamed relevant countries: Turkey, Ukraine, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Qatar, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, the Seychelles, Iran, Russia
ASIANamed relevant countries: Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Vietnam, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Macao, Guinea Bissau, Mongolia, Singapore, Azerbaijan, European Union, Kazakhstan, China, Hong Kong, Myanmar (Burma), Israel, India, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Thailand
AFRICANamed relevant countries: Kenya, South Africa

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


Europe

On 1 June, the Armenian Government approved a bill to lift visa requirements for citizens of Qatar. The approval contrasts the rift between Qatar and neighbours Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, each of which cut diplomatic ties with Qatar on 5 June 2017.

Indeed, while relations between Qatar and the Gulf States have been worsening, relations with Armenia have been improving – something that can also be seen by the inauguration of direct flights between the capital cities of the two countries. The bill gives Qataris the right to remain in Armenia for 180 days in any one-year period.

On 1 June, the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Union, Mr Vladimir Chizhov, said that no discussions were currently being envisioned to develop a visa-free system for citizens of Russia and the European Union. “I have [the] impression that the enthusiasm towards the visa-free regime has reduced among the Russian society. It stems from a number of reasons – [for] instance economic, political and psychological,” he noted.

Starting 7 June, Russia will, however, allow visa-free entry for all fans – whether EU nationals or not – visiting for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. Visitors will need to carry a FAN ID in order to take advantage of the regime, which will continue for an additional ten days following the end of the Confederations Cup.

On 4 June, Albanian Ambassador Sami Shiba said that Albania would extend its visa-free regime for citizens of Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia to last from 31 May to 15 November 2017. “Gulf nationals including Saudis represent about 25 percent of [tourist visits to Albania for 2016],” noted the Ambassador.

On 11 June, the European Union inaugurated its visa-free regime with the Ukraine. The visa-free agreement encompasses all EU and non-EU members of the Schengen Area, including Switzerland, but excludes EU members that are not part of Schengen (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania, and the United Kingdom).

The regime allows Ukrainians to enter the Schengen Area visa-free for 90 days out of any 180-day period when doing so for business, tourism, or family reasons so long as they hold a biometric passport. In celebrating the Ukraine’s achievement, President Poroshenko said: “Today, every Ukrainian can drink fantastic coffee in Bratislava, or fly on a low-cost flight to Warsaw, or visit the Vienna opera.” He also underlined that the move would distance the Ukraine from Russia.

On 12 June, Norway and Indonesia penned an agreement to allow visa-free entry for holders of diplomatic and service passports. The agreement came in the context of the third Indonesia-Norway Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC), which this year was held in Oslo, Norway’s capital city.

On 13 June, Belarus’ House of Representatives ratified an agreement, originally signed in November 2016, to allow visa-free entry for holders of valid diplomatic, service, and official passports from Chile. The agreement only applies for stays of up to 90 days in a given year, and is reciprocated by Chile for holders of diplomatic, service, and official passports from Belarus.

In late June, Belarus’ Ambassador to Russia, Mr Igor Petrishenko, expressed hope that a solution would be found to re-implement a control-free zone on the border between Belarus and Russia. Border controls were introduced between the countries in February 2017, after Belarus enacted laws enabling citizens from 80 countries to access the country via Minsk National Airport visa-free for a period of up to five days.

Starting 14 June, Montenegro opened its borders to citizens of Georgia travelling for short stays of no more than 30 days. The visa-free regime was announced to be temporary, lasting from 14 June to 31 October 2017. Under normal circumstances, visas are only waived for Georgians travelling to Montenegro if they already hold a Schengen Visa, and if they remain in the country for no more than seven days.

Caribbean

On 26 June, Antigua and Barbuda lost its visa-free travel rights to Canada. The Communications Branch for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Canada said the resulted from the careful monitoring of the integrity of Antigua and Barbuda’s travel documents.

Citizens of Antigua and Barbuda will no longer be able to use their existing electronic travel authorization (eTA), although those with flights to Canada purchased before June 27 and for trips scheduled for or before July 11, will benefit from priority processing at visa centres. An application for visas to Canada generally takes 14 days.

Americas

On 7 June, the United States’ envoy to Hong Kong, Mr Kurt Tong, said that he is urging the United States to ease visa requirements for citizens of the special administrative region. A bill to enable visa-free travel for citizens of Hong Kong has been with Congress for three years. “And if Congress were to pass that rule, then there would be no one more aggressive than myself and the consulate in trying to implement that possibility as quickly as possible,” said Mr Tong. On 6 June, citizens of Hong Kong were given the right to apply for US 10-year visas online.

A June 26 ruling by the United States Supreme Court partly reinstated President Trump’s 90-day ban on foreigners from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, as well as a 120-day ban on refugees. The ban does not apply to those who with a bona fide relationship with a US individual or entity, for example, through family, employment, or education ties.

On 22 June, taking advantage of talks held at the 47th Regular Session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Cancún, the Governments of Guyana and Colombia signed a visa-free agreement for their ordinary passport holders. The agreement enables their citizens to enter visa-free for a period of 90 days, extendable for another 90 days so long as the total amount of time does not exceed 180 days in one year.

Middle East

June saw the coming into force of an agreement allowing passport-free travel for citizens of Turkey and the Ukraine wanting to remain for no more than 90 days. The agreement enables Turks and Ukrainians to travel using their electronic national ID cards instead of their passports.

Starting mid-June, Turkey also inaugurated free transit visas for citizens of Pakistan journeying to the Schengen member states (plus Ireland and the United Kingdom) or the United Arab Emirates. Pakistanis will only be able to take advantage of the transit visa if they have a valid visa to these four countries or regions.

Following a visit to Tehran on 20 June by Iraq’s Prime Minister, Mr Haider al-Abadi, Iran’s First Vice-President, Mr Eshaq Jahangiri, called for the establishment of a visa-free regime between Iraq and Iran. Mr Jahangiri highlighted the benefit that this would bring to the many Iranian pilgrims who visit Iraq.

On 25 June, Iran allowed the visa-free entry of tourist groups from Russia – a move that enacts an agreement signed in March 2017 for the mutual abolition of visas for tourist travellers.

On 22 June, Qatar initiated a visa-on-arrival regime for ordinary passport holders from 37 countries, so long as they remain in Qatar for a maximum of one month. Citizens of Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, and the Seychelles are among some of the many benefiting from these provisions.

Asia

On 1 June, Taiwan implemented several new visa policies for citizens of a number of Asian nations. These include allowing citizens of Sri Lanka and Bhutan to apply for visitor visas, as well as eliminating the requirement that businesspersons have a Taiwanese company as guarantor.

They also include allowing businesspersons from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka to apply for e-visas. Finally, Taiwan’s visa-free regime, applicable to citizens from certain countries who in the past ten years held a Taiwanese visa or an Alien Resident Visa, was extended to citizens of Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

On 5 June, Vietnam extended its visa-free travel regime for citizens of five European nations: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The regime, which was due to expire in June, was renewed for an additional year until 30 June 2018. It allows nationals from these five countries to stay in Vietnam for a period of no more than 15 days. Tourism groups were hoping the regime would also be extended Australians, Canadians, and Indians – to no avail.

On 7 June, as a meeting between Czech President Milos Zeman and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang held in Hanoi came to a close, Mr Zeman announced to media representatives that Vietnam would now open its doors to Czech citizens travelling to the nation visa-free for a period of 15 days. The Czech Republic is following in the footsteps of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

On 5 June, the Macao Identification Services Bureau announced that holders of ordinary passports from the special administrative region could now simply receive a visa-upon-arrival when visiting either Iran or Guinea Bissau. Macanese people will be able to use Iran’s visa-upon-arrival facility for tourist stays of up to 30 days. They will be able to use Guinea Bissau’s visa-upon-arrival facility for stays of up to 90 days when entering the country through Osvaldo Vieira International Airport.

On 8 June, Mongolia expanded the visa-free travel rights of citizens of Singapore, who may now enter Mongolia for a period of 30 days – a 16 day increase from what was previously allowed under Mongolian policy. It has been several years that Mongolians have held 30-day visa-free travel to Singapore, and the reciprocal move is expected to boost tourism and business between the two nations.

Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr Mahmud Mammadguliyev, said on 12 June that Azerbaijan is looking to establish a visa-free regime with the European Union. Although Mr Mammadguliyev noted that visa-free travel was still a matter for the future, steps were being taken for visa simplification. “When [visa-free travel] will happen I cannot say. It depends on both sides. Azerbaijan is expected to hold a meeting of the Committee on Visa Facilitation and Readmission, maybe at this meeting we will achieve some progress in this direction,” he said.

Starting 10 June, Kazakhstan is hosting the three-month long Expo 2017, an exposition centred around the theme of sustainability, energy, and the reduction of CO2 emissions. During this time, citizens of China are able to travel within Kazakhstan without a visa, so long as they enter the country from the Astana or Almaty airports and remain for no more than 72 hours. A similar regime applies to those with passports from Hong Kong.

On 12 June, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar (Burma) officially announced the lifting of visa requirements for holders of diplomatic and special passports from Israel, so long as they remain in Myanmar (Burma) for no more than 90 days. Israel has applied reciprocal provisions. The new visa agreement was signed by the two nations on 11 June.

The North-eastern Indian state of Mizoram would be happy to establish a 60-km, 60-day visa free border with the people of Myanmar (Burma), said Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla in mid-June. Currently, visa-free travel is allowed for 16 km and a maximum of 72 hours, so long as visitors have appropriate permits. “India can take advantage of the traditional ties and foster its budding engagement with Myanmar by building up trade and business opportunities as part of its Act East Policy,” underlined the Chief Minister.

On 19 June, Japan announced the lifting of visa requirements for passport holders from the United Arab Emirates. The rules distinguish between those with diplomatic and service passports, who can stay in Japan for the length of their mission visa-free, or who can enter for a period of up to 90 days when travelling for tourism or business purposes, and those with ordinary passports. Ordinary passport holders must obtain a sticker from their nearest Japanese embassy or consulate, which allows 30-day visa-free travel for up to 3 years, after which time the UAE citizen must obtain a new sticker. Provisions for ordinary passport holders are expected to come into effect in July 2017.

In late June, as part of the Joint Bilateral Cooperation Commission between Kazakhstan and Thailand, the two countries signed an agreement allowing visa-free travel for holders of official passports. The agreement was followed by a promise to accelerate negotiations on visa waivers for ordinary passport holders.

Africa

In a legal notice dated 9 June, Kenya announced a new, 90-day visa-free regime for the people of South Africa. This is a significant improvement for South Africans, who could previously only remain in Kenya for a period not to exceed 30 days. South Africa has yet to reciprocate the move, although there is speculation that it will do so soon, especially as processing of Kenyan visas is currently a burdensome procedure taking up to five days.