Visa-Free Digest: March 2017


In early March, the European Parliament requested that the European Union end its visa-free policy for citizens of the United States, following continued uneven treatment on the part of the United States towards five member-states of the Union, whose citizens still cannot travel to the United States without a visa. These five states are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania. The European Commission has two months to take steps to enforce the decision, but the European Parliament and Council have the right to object to any move made by the European Commission.
The Belarusian House of Representatives said on 6 March that it was readying to ratify an agreement signed in October 2016 with Argentina to allow citizens of the two nations visa-free access for a period not to exceed 90 days. Argentina has the largest number of Belarusian citizens in South America, and Belarus hopes the ratification will help create an export market for its goods.
On 24 March, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko signalled that visa-waiver provisions, currently allowing citizens from 80 nations to enter Belarus for up to five days, may be extended to accommodate the needs of those wishing to visit for longer. “If five days are not enough, we will extend this period. Why should we be afraid? Belarus is an open country with open economy, and people should come here in an open way. It does not do harm to anybody,” he underlined.
On 13 March, Germany and Kuwait penned an agreement to allow holders of diplomatic and service passports to travel visa-free. The agreement is expected to come into force within two months – the timeframe within which Germany and Kuwait should be able to give effect to the agreement in their domestic laws.
On 14 March, the Ukraine announced a visa waiver policy has been agreed with Turkey, allowing citizens with valid electronic IDs cards to visit each other’s nation for 90 days in any 180-day period. The agreement trailed a visit by Ukrainian Prime Minister, Mr Volodymyr Groysman, to Ankara.
Russia and Turkey have been negotiating the removal of visa requirements for journalists, announced Mr Huseyin Dirioz, Turkey’s Ambassador to Russia, on 15 March. The move is part of the rapprochement between Russia and Turkey, following the diplomatic crisis that ensued after the downing of a Russian Su-24 plane. Russian tourists wishing to enter Turkey are already at liberty to cross the border without having to apply for a visa.
On 28 March, Russia and Iran finalised an agreement to allow visa-free travel for tourist groups. Signed by Presidents Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani, the agreement is expected to improve people-to-people relations.
On 30 March, Russia and South Africa lifted visa requirements for citizens who travel to pursue leisure activities. Holders of ordinary passports will be able to remain in Russia or South Africa for a period of up to 90 days every year.
On 28 March, Georgians celebrated the first day of obtaining visa-free travel rights to the Schengen Area. After years of negotiations, citizens of Georgia can now remain in any of the Schengen member states for 90 days in any 180-day period, so long as they hold a biometric passport. Looking to the future, Mr Mikheil Janelidze, Georgia’s Foreign Minister, said: “Our goal is for Georgia to become a fully-fledged member of the EU.” The visa-free travel agreement was signed on 1 March.


On 24 March, Barbados and China signed a visa waiver agreement ensuring visa-free travel for their citizens. This is the tenth agreement ever signed by China allowing visa-free entry into its territory, and the third such agreement with a Caribbean nation (Grenada and the Bahamas already hold visa-free travel to China for citizens with ordinary passports). Previously, only those holding diplomatic, official, and service passports could take advantage of visa-free travel between the two nations.


On 8 March, Guyana and Chile unveiled the ‘Guyana/Chile Visa Waiver Programme,’ which enables their citizens to travel across each other’s borders without first having to obtain a visa. The unveiling followed the October 2016 signing of the visa-free agreement by Chile’s Foreign Minister and Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.
On 16 March, a new travel ban by United States President Donald Trump came into effect. The ban followed an updated executive order issued on 6 March 2017, which in turn amended a previous order issued in January 2017 but later suspended. The new order excludes Iraqis from its list of banned nationalities, but citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen all see their entry rights suspended for a period of 90 days. The order applies to those with valid temporary visas, but not to those holding permanent residence cards. The order also suspends the Refugee Admissions Programme for 120 days. In either scenario, case-by-case exceptions can be made. Challenges to the order have already been made by a number of states, including Hawaii, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Washington, resulting in preliminary injunctions that have been appealed.
On 29 March, Ecuador put an end to its 90-day visa-free regime with North Korea. The break follows continued missile launches by North Korea, and further sanctions imposed by the United Nations. North Korea joins a list of only 11 other countries who do not have visa-free entry privileges to Ecuador: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, and Somalia.

Middle East

On 1 March, Pakistani High Commissioner to Malaysia, Mr Syed Hassan Raza, said that Pakistan and Malaysia were ready to enter negotiations to discuss visa-free travel for their nationals. “We will consider this when we have a high-level meeting between the two countries… hopefully, this year,” said the High Commissioner.
On 2 March, Kuwait’s Assistant Foreign Minister for European Affairs said that Kuwait adopted its e-passport system to fulfil one of the key requirements for obtaining a visa to Europe’s Schengen Area. Negotiations for visa-free travel for Kuwaitis is underway.
Following a meeting in Brasilia on 16 March between Abdullah Bin Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and Aloysio Nunes, Minister of Foreign Relations of Brazil, the two nations eliminated visas for holders of ordinary passports and for those with diplomatic, special, official, and service passports.
On 22 March an agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Armenia came into effect, ensuring visa-free travel for their citizens. The agreement followed talks between the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and the President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan.


Starting on 6 March, Malaysia ended visa-free travel for citizens of North Korea. The decision, which Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister said was motivated by national security concerns, follows the death of Mr Kim Jong Nam, half-brother to Kim Jong Un. Mr Nam was killed in Kuala Lumpur airport on 13 February 2017, and North Korean agents have been accused of the murder.
On 15 March, Taiwan announced that it was readying itself to allow visa-free visits for tourists from Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and the Philippines. The implementation of these new visa regimes is expected within three years, and is part of Taiwan’s “New Southbound Policy” to strengthen relations with Asian and Australasian countries.
In mid-March South Korea announced that, starting in May, Jeju Island will be opened to visitors from Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam for up to 15 days, so long as they travel in groups of five or more. These visitors will no longer have to obtain a visa from the embassy, but rather will receive their visa directly from their travel agency.


In early March, South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs confirmed that visa-free travel to the European Union was still a key Government goal. It was further noted that the European Union is considering a full visa exemption for tourists, and multiple-entry visas for businesspersons holding ordinary passports from South Africa.
In mid-March, Nigeria launched a new policy ensuring visas are processed within 48 hours of submission. It also announced that visa-free travel would be made available for certain countries. The changes were made to improve the country’s ability to promote business, said Ms Jumoke Oduwole, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Industry, Trade and Investment.