Visa-Free Digest: May

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: United States, European Union, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Belarus, China, Azerbaijan, Sweden, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey
CARIBBEANNamed relevant countries: Dominica, Russia
AMERICASNamed relevant countries: Canada, Brazil, Bulgaria, Romania, Argentina, United Arab Emirates, Belarus, United States
MIDDLE EASTNamed relevant countries: Kuwait, European Union
ASIANamed relevant countries: Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, Qatar, Kazakhstan, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom
AFRICANamed relevant countries: Gambia, Russia, Egypt, Sudan, South Africa, African states, Rwanda

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


Europe

On 2 May, the European Commission declined to end visa-free travel for citizens of the United States. Tensions between the European Union and the United States are due to the latter not allowing visa-free entry for citizens of five EU member states: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania. The Commission reasoned that ending visa-free travel for citizens of the United States “would be counterproductive at this moment, and would not serve the objective of achieving visa-free travel for all EU citizens.”

On 11 May, the Ministers of the European Union approved visa-free travel for citizens of the Ukraine coming to the EU for no more than 90 days in any 180-day period. The provisions apply to Ukrainians who hold biometric passports although, on 15 May, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that Ukrainians who received Russian citizenship following the contested annexation of the Crimea “will have serious difficulties in obtaining a biometric passport.” On 17 May, the same provisions were approved by the President of the European Parliament in a signing ceremony in Strasbourg. Visa-free travel is due to commence on 11 June.

After a meeting held in Beijing on 16 May between Presidents Alexander Lukashenko and Xi Jinping, Belarus and China announced their intention to negotiate a 30-day visa-free agreement for their citizens. The two countries have already lifted visa requirements for those holding diplomatic and service passports, and all Chinese nationals can travel to Belarus without a visa for a maximum period of five days.

On 23 May, with Presidential Decree No.166, Belarus waived visas for Chinese entrepreneurs looking to invest in the Great Stone industrial park for a period of 180 days every calendar year.

On 19 May, the Ukraine announced its involvement in negotiations with China to launch a mutual visa-free regime. The negotiations also encompass the creation of a free trade zone in an effort to boost both tourism and other economic growth.

In late May, Azerbaijan’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr Mahmud Mammadguliyev, said that it was still too soon to look to a rapid implementation of a visa-free regime with the European Union. Azerbaijan looks to the European Union as its largest trade partner, and a visa-free agreement would strengthen its ability to create economic and interpersonal relations with the bloc.

On 22 to 24 May, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden visited Indonesia in his official capacity for the first time. The visit was marked by the signing of three Memorandums of Understanding, one of which inaugurated visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic and official passports from the two nations. “I positively welcome the signing of free visa partnership for diplomatic purposes and state affairs,” noted Indonesian President Joko Widodo or Jokowi.

On 31 May, Russia took steps to reinstate visa-free travel for citizens of Turkey. According to Kremlin, President Putin signed a decree waiving short-stay visas for Turkish diplomats and their families, pilots and other aircraft crew, and business visitors. The reinstatement comes with several moves meant to induce a rapprochement between Russia and Turkey following the diplomatic crisis the two nations faced after a Russian plane was shot down by Turkey in November 2015.

Caribbean

As a keynote speaker at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), the Prime Minister of Dominica, Dr the Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit, called for the Caribbean and Russia to pursue a policy of visa-free travel. “It should not have to take a Russian investor six months to get a visa to come to our countries, and vice versa. We must have the ease of movement in order for us to advance our economic cooperation,” said the Prime Minister.

Americas

Canada has updated its entry requirements for citizens of Brazil, Bulgaria, and Romania, who, as of 1 May 2017, may travel to the country after applying for an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA). The change only applies to citizens who previously held a Canadian visitor visa, or who hold a valid US visitor visa. Citizens who do not fulfil these requirements must obtain a Temporary Resident Visa. The move precedes the complete removal of short-stay visa requirements for citizens of Bulgaria, and Romania, due to take place on 1 December 2017.

On 16 May, Argentina lifted visa requirements for citizens of the United Arab Emirates for temporary travel of up to 90 days. The move was hailed by the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation as an indication of the UAE’s rise in the international arena.

Starting 19 May, Argentina also allows citizens of Belarus to remain in its territory visa-free for 90 days in any one-year period. The agreement is mutual, enabling Argentinians to stay in Belarus temporarily for an equivalent amount of time. The original visa-free travel agreement was signed by the two nations in October 2016.

On 25 May, the United States implemented tougher screening procedures for individuals coming to the country. The procedures enable border control to ask about social media information, prior passport numbers, family information, and details on past travel, employment, and contact information.

Middle East

On 10 May, Kuwait signalled its readiness to recommence talks on visa-free travel to the European Union with the European Commission. Mr Waleed Al-Khubaizi, Kuwait’s Assistant Foreign Minister for Europe Affairs, said that dialogs on the matter would follow Europe resolving its current difficulties with illegal immigration.

Asia

In a meeting in Jakarta on 2 May, Uzbekistan’s chairman of the Tourism Development State Committee discussed visa liberalisation for Indonesians travelling to Uzbekistan with Tourism Minister Arief Yahya. With visa-free travel soon to be established for Indonesia, there are also hopes for a direct flight between Tashkent and Bali.

On 5 May, Taiwan announced that its plans to enable visa-free travel for citizens of the Philippines by 1 June would need to be postponed following “technical problems” encountered by the nation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A statement on when the regime will come into place is expected for September.

The matter of visa-free travel for citizens of Malaysia to the Kingdom of Qatar was put forward during diplomatic meetings between Malaysia’s Foreign Minister and Qatar’s Emir, Prime Minister, Minister of the Interior, and Foreign Minister on 13 and 14 May. The discussions were part of a plan to solidify bilateral relations between the two countries.

On 23 May, Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates amended their visa-free travel agreement to include holders of ordinary passports in the list of those exempt from entry visas. A previous agreement only encompassed holders of diplomatic and service passports. According to the agreement, ordinary Kazakh and Emirati citizens are allowed to travel within each other’s countries for a period of up to 30 days.

In late May, Vietnam was urged by the HCM City Tourism to renew visa-free travel rights for tourists from five countries: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. HCM City Tourism argued that although visa-free travel rights were scheduled to end by June 2017, they should be extended for five years until 2022 to allow longer marketing campaigns and greater tourism flows. The tourism organisation also noted that visa-free travel should be allowed for 30, rather than just 15, days.

Africa

On 4 May, the Gambia and Russia signed an agreement allowing visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic and service passports. The agreement followed a visit to the Gambia by Mr Mikhail Bogdanov, who met both Gambian President Adama Barrow and Foreign Minister Ousainou Darboe. Mr Mikhail Bogdanov is Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa.

In mid-May, Egypt and Sudan agreed on issuing visas free of charge for holders of ordinary passports. The visas have a 6-month lifespan, and may be renewed. The two countries further agreed to exempt women, people over the age of 50, and children aged under 16 from needing an entry visa when travelling across the two countries’ borders or ports.

A White Paper issued by South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs in early April but only made accessible to the public in mid-May revealed that South Africa intends to take steps towards visa liberalisation for African nationals in 2018. The White Paper notes that, initially, South Africa will allow visa-free entry for “trusted travellers,” including diplomats, officials, academics, businesspeople, and students.

On 23 May, leaders and officials of African states met in Kigali, Rwanda to review a draft protocol on the free movement of Africans across the continent. The protocol envisions visa-free travel for up to 90 days, as well as the implementation of the right abode in Africa. The Chairperson of the Committee on the Free Movement of Persons in Africa, Katyen Jackden, however warned that the process might be a slow one, particularly due to technical difficulties and security concerns.