Visa-Free Digest: September 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: European Union, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Poland, Armenia, Moldova, Russia, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, Japan, Canada
CARIBBEANName relevant countries: Russia, St Kitts and Nevis, Indonesia, Saint Lucia, United Arab Emirates
AMERICASNamed relevant countries: United States, Malaysia, Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Venezuela, Iraq, Belize, India, Colombia, Montenegro, South Africa
MIDDLE EASTNamed relevant countries: Qatar, Morocco, Algeria, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States, Schengen Area, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates), Pakistan
ASIANamed relevant countries: Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Armenia, Philippines, China, India, Myanmar (Burma), Malaysia, North Korea, Nepal, Oman
AFRICANamed relevant countries: Angola, Indonesia, European Union, Cape Verde
OCEANIA Named relevant countries: Vanuatu, United Arab Emirates, Fiji, Argentina

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


Europe

On 1 September, the agreement between the European Union and the Ukraine, allowing Ukrainian citizens to enter the Schengen Area visa-free, finally came into force. Under the terms of the agreement, Ukrainians can remain in the Schengen Area for a maximum of 90 days in any 180-day period, so long as they have a biometric passport and do not seek remuneration during their stay.

On a trip to Kazakhstan commencing on 6 September, Polish President Andrzey Duda affirmed his support for Kazakhs obtaining visa-free travel rights to Poland. Poles can already travel to Kazakhstan visa-free for a period of up to 30 days. “Now we ask the same of the Polish side,” said Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

On 12 September, Armenia ratified a law on visa-free travel for citizens of Moldova. The law applies both to ordinary and diplomatic passport holders from Moldova for a period of up to 90 days, and is mirrored by Moldova with respect to Armenian passport holders.

On 20 September, Russia and Grenada penned a mutual visa-free agreement for their citizens. The agreement was signed on the margins of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, held at its headquarters in New York City, and followed a January 2017 Memorandum of Understanding on the subject.

On 22 September, Russia also announced a new visa waiver policy for citizens of St Kitts and Nevis. Russians have been able to travel to the Caribbean Federation of St Kitts and Nevis since 2013, but it is the first time that all citizens from these two islands will be able to enjoy visa-free travel to Russia. The visa-free regime was decided on the side-lines of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

After several weeks of delay due to bad weather, the first visa-free flight from Japan to Russia’s Kuril Islands was finally completed on 23 September. Japan and Russia have been disputing sovereignty of the islands since the Second World War, and the visa-free flights are a step towards normalising rapports, particularly for those Japanese people whose ancestors are buried on the islands.

On 23 September, Petro Poroshenko, President of the Ukraine, and Justine Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, met to discuss the possibility of the Ukraine obtaining visa-free travel to Canada. “[We] see a huge positive effect from Ukraine’s decision to grant visa-free regime to Canada in 2005 and are ready to cooperate with Canada to ensure visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens. I believe that breaking the barriers between our people, who are so close in their aspirations, is the right step at the moment,” noted Mr Poroshenko.

On 26 September, Piotr Switalski, who heads the EU Delegation in Armenia, said that the European Union was considering lifting visa requirements from Armenian citizens, but that the move would follow Armenia reforming some of its laws, in a similar vein to the Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova.

Caribbean

A day after agreeing to a visa-free regime with Russia, on 23 September St Kitts and Nevis signed another visa waiver agreement with Indonesia. The latter affords visa-free travel for up to 30 days for citizens holding ordinary passports, and was signed on the margins of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly.

On 21 September, on the side-lines of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, Saint Lucia and the United Arab Emirates signed a visa waiver agreement for holders of diplomatic passports. Penned by Saint Lucian Prime Minister the Honourable Allen M. Chastanet, and UAE Minister for Climate Change and the Environment Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi, the agreement is for stays of up to 60 days, and comes into effect 30 days after signing.

Americas

The United States may grant Malaysia access to its Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) by the end of 2017, said sources close to the Malaysian Government on 12 September, the date on which Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak visited President Trump at the White House.

Currently, Malaysia fulfils six out of seven of the Programme’s statutory requirements, falling short of the 97% approval rate for tourist and business visas by 0.3%. Should predictions turn out to be true, Malaysia would be the first Muslim-majority country to achieve VWP entry under the Trump presidency.

On 24 September, the United States issued a new ban, restricting travel for citizens of certain nations. Under the ban, the large majority of citizens from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen will not be able to travel to the United States commencing on 15 October 2017.

Some citizens of Venezuela may also find themselves unable to enter the United States, while citizens of Iraq will be subject to heightened scrutiny. The ban does not apply to citizens who already hold Green Cards or non-immigrant visas, and exceptions can be made on a case-by-case basis where restrictions would cause undue hardship to the foreigner, entry would be in the national interest and not pose a threat to US national security or public safety.

On 18 September, Belize and India signed a visa waiver agreement for people holding diplomatic and service passports. The agreement allows entry for a period of up to 30 days, and was established with the goal of improving bilateral relations by facilitating travel, particularly for those seeking to attend exchange programmes.

In mid-September, Colombia inaugurated visas-on-arrival, known as Permiso de Ingreso y Permanencia (PIP), for citizens of Montenegro. At the same time, it removed the right to apply for a PIP for citizens of South Africa, who must now obtain a travel visa at their local Colombian consulate

Middle East

On 5 September, incorrect news was spread that Qatar had lifted visa requirements for citizens of Morocco. On 10 September however, Qatar’s Ministry of the Interior and Tourism Authority announced a new 30-day visa-on-arrival option for citizens of Morocco and Algeria.

The option, scheduled to come into effect on 15 September 2017, was said to apply to Moroccans and Algerians who hold residence permits or visas from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the member states of the Schengen Area and Gulf Cooperation Council (which, in addition to Qatar, includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates). Applicants must show six months validity on their passport, and evidence of accommodation and return travel.

Later in September, Qatar announced that, starting 27 September 2017, the visa-on-arrival option would apply to citizens of all nations holding valid residence permits or visas from Australia, Canada, the GCC, New Zealand, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The residence permits or visas must be valid for a minimum of 30 days from the intended date of departure, and applicants must present evidence of onward or return travel, as well as proof of accommodation. The visa-on-arrival option allows entry into Qatar for a maximum of 30 days.

Finally, on 19 September, Qatar granted 30-day visas-on-arrival to citizens of Pakistan who fulfil a number of conditions, including holding a passport with at least six months validity, a return ticket, and the cash equivalent of QR 5,000 or a working credit card. Pakistanis travelling directly from Pakistan must also provide evidence of vaccination against polio.

Asia

Starting 1 September, citizens of Taiwan could no longer avail themselves of free visas to Thailand. This was the result of Thailand failing to renew the New Southbound Policy programme that had ended the need for paid visas for Taiwanese nationals from December 2016 to 31 August 2017.  Fees now amount to around US$40. Thai citizens can travel to Taiwan visa-free, and the Government of Taiwan continues to call for reciprocity.

Starting 6 September, citizens of Japan were allowed entry into Armenia without a visa. The new regime, which applies unilaterally to Japanese nationals, was first approved on 6 August, and allows Japanese citizens to tour Armenia for up to 180 days.

On 28 September, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said Premier William Lai had approved a temporary policy the previous day to allow citizens of the Philippines visa-free entry for up to 14 days.

The policy, intended for implementation in October on a trial basis, is expected to be reciprocated by the Philippines despite it having adopted the “one-China” policy in favour of China. Indeed, on 29 September, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) located in Taipei said the Philippines was initiating reciprocal action, but that it could not say when this would come into effect.

On 6 September, India announced the issuance of free visas for citizens of Myanmar (Burma). “I am pleased to announce that we have decided to grant gratis (no-cost) visa[s] to all the citizens of Myanmar who want to visit India,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a joint press statement with Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in Nay Pyi Taw.

In late September, India’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the country was in the process of reviewing its limited visa-free movement regime with Myanmar. The regime currently allows citizens from both nations to enter and remain within 16 km of the border for a period of up to 72 hours, so long as they hold valid relevant permits. However, the exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar is causing India to reconsider its stance.

On September 28, the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs imposed a ban on citizens of Malaysia travelling to North Korea. “The decision to impose the travel ban on Malaysians to North Korea was taken in view of the escalation of tensions in the Korean peninsula and related developments arising from missile tests,” said the Ministry, otherwise known as Wisma Putra.

As September came to a close, Nepal and Oman announced they would soon remove visa requirements for holders of diplomatic and official passports. The decision came after Nepal’s Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, concluded a three-day visa to Oman, where he also signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of Memorandum of bilateral consultation mechanisms between the two countries.

Africa

A Presidential Order published in the Angolan State Gazette on 1 September revealed that Angola and Indonesia signed an agreement for visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic and service passports in April 2017. The agreement allows visa-free travel for a period of 30 days, and applies equally to Angolan and Indonesian passport holders.

In mid-September, Ulisses Correia e Silva, Cape Verde’s Prime Minister, announced that the nation was readying to implement a visa-free regime for holders of passports from the European Union. Expected to be implemented in 2018, the regime is part of a major manoeuvre on the part of Cape Verde to improve its annual GDP growth by seven percent by 2021.

Oceania

Vanuatu and the United Arab Emirates signed an agreement for mutual visa-free travel on the side-lines of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, held in New York. The agreement applies to both ordinary passport holders and diplomatic passport holders.

Signatories for the two nations included Thani bin Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi, the UAE’s Minister of Climate Change and Environment, and Bruno Leingkone, Vanuatu’s Minister for Foreign Affairs.

On 25 September, on the side-lines of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, Fiji and Argentina signed a visa waiver agreement for holders of both ordinary and official passports. The Agreement is due to be implemented at the end of October 2017. The agreement was signed by Fiji’s Prime Minister and Argentina’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.