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Visa-Free Digest: June & July

Overview:

EUROPE Named relevant countries: United Kingdom, European Union, Canada, United States, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, Romania, Kiribati, Peru, Russia, Solomon Islands, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Germany, Georgia, France, Italy, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Turkey, Mexico, Armenia, Iran, Montenegro, Uzbekistan, Belarus, China, South Korea
AMERICAS     Named relevant countries: Brazil, Australia, Canada, Japan, United States, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Mauritius, Chile, Belize, British Virgin Islands, United Kingdom
ASIA Named relevant countries: Qatar, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, India, Ghana, Brazil, China, Russia, South Africa, Pakistan, Kuwait, Indonesia, Rwanda, Singapore, Myanmar (Burma), North Korea, Mongolia, Taiwan, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, South Korea, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Iran
AFRICA Named relevant countries: African Union, Namibia, Ghana, Mauritania, Syria, Morocco, China, Tonga, Italy, Cameroon
OCEANIA Named relevant countries: Guam, Vietnam, Philippines

 


Europe

On June 23 2016 the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union – a decision that has been coined ‘Brexit.’ Whilst the visa repercussions of the decision have yet to be officially determined, citizens of the UK and of the EU are unlikely to be deprived of their visa-free travel rights. Questions persist as to how long freedom of movement will remain one of the benchmark rights of EU citizenship, and whether it will be lost between the United Kingdom and continental Europe.

In June, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned the European Union, Canada, and the United States of the consequences of failing to find an agreement with respect to visa-free travel for certain members of the EU. Nationals of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania, are all required to obtain a visa to the United States. Citizens of Bulgaria and Romania may not visit Canada without a visa. Under current EU regulations, the EU should insist on all its member states receiving the same visa-free travel options, and could thus remove visa-free travel for citizens of Canada and the United States on the basis of failed reciprocity. On July 12, when the European Parliament was expected to determine the matter, a decision was made to delay the issue for further negotiation. Meanwhile, Canada announced a schedule for the lifting of visa requirements for Romanians and Bulgarians in autumn 2016.

From 24 June, citizens of the European Union’s Schengen Area and of the Central Pacific island of Kiribati will be able to enjoy mutual visa-free travel for up to 90 days in a period of 180 days. Holders of ordinary, diplomatic, service, or special passports will be able to travel without a visa, so long as the purpose of their trip is not undertaking paid activity.

The European Parliament approved a visa-free travel agreement with Peru for all citizens with ordinary, diplomatic, service, official, or special passports, so long as they are not travelling to carry out a paid activity. Under the terms of the agreement, Peruvians and members of the Schengen Area will be able to stay in the Schengen Area and Peru respectively for a period of up to 90 days within a 180-day period. The agreement was signed in mid-March, but only applied provisionally until Parliament’s ratification on 5 July.

Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, spoke in favour of visa-free travel to the European Union for citizens of Russia in early June 2016, arguing that this would improve educational and scientific exchange programmes. However, on 3 July, Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the European Union, noted that “dialogue [on the matter] is frozen” and that Brexit is likely to hamper any such agreement in the near future.

The EU is ready to grant visa-free travel to the Solomon Islands following steps by the Solomon Island to finalise the agreement. “We have completed the initial part agreement last November. We have completed on our side all procedure that is needed for the signing,” said the EU’s Ambassador to the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, Mr Leonidas Tezapsidis.

The EU is discussing a visa liberalisation with Kazakhstan, announced the Kazak Foreign Minister, Mr Yerlan Idriso. The discussion will facilitate visa issuance procedures for citizens of Kazakhstan, but a complete waiver is not yet being considered. Kazakhstan currently only has visa-free access to 19 countries and territories across the globe. The Kazak Government is however intent on improving its citizens travelling rights, and has announced that it will start the process by easing visa-free travel to Kazakhstan for 35 new nations, including many members of the EU, to coincide with the Astana EXPO 2017. The announcement was made by Chairman Akhmetzhan Yessimov at the General Assembly of the International Exhibitions Bureau (BIE) in Paris.

The EU vote on visa-free travel for citizens of Kosovo, due to take place on 12 July, has been postponed to 5 September. The postponement was chiefly the result of Kosovo’s inability to ratify an agreement with Montenegro regarding its borders.

At a meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels on 8 June, Germany said no to allowing visa-free travel for citizens of Georgia. Germany cited concerns over burglaries by Georgian criminals in Germany, as well as the need to wait for a new visa-free ‘suspension mechanism’ to be approved by the European Parliament. France and Italy both backed Germany’s decision.

On 27 June, the European Union agreed to a reciprocal visa-free travel agreement with the Marshall Islands. The agreement allows citizens of either nations to travel to the Schengen Area or the Marshall Island for 90 days within a 180-day period. Any citizen will be able to take advantage of the agreement unless he or she intends to travel for the purpose of carrying out a paid activity.

In early July, the European Union and Tuvalu signed an agreement allowing their nationals to travel without a visa for a maximum period of 90 days in 180 days. The agreement only applies to the Schengen Area, and to any individual who is not travelling for the purpose of carrying out a paid activity.

In June, Turkey ended visa-free access for Russian truck drivers to respond to Russia imposing visa restrictions on Turkish truckers. Russia increased travel and trade requirements for Turkish nationals after a Russian bomber plane was downed by Turkish forces in November 2015. However, on Thursday 30 June, following an apology from Turkey, Russia to lifted travel restrictions to Turkey.

On Saturday 2 June, President Erdogan of Turkey announced that his country would be issuing citizenship status on 300,000 Syrian refugees currently located within its borders. The Turkish President did not specify what eligibility criteria would be applied. He later defended the announcement, stating: “There is no need to worry, this country has 79 million people living on 780,000 square kilometres of land. Germany is half our size and has 85 million people.”

In late July, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mr Mevlut Cavusoglu, underlined that Turkey would not abide by the terms of the March 2016 agreement to take back Syrian refugees should the European Union fail to provide its citizens with visa-free access by October 2016. Mr Cavusoglu stated that Turkey is playing an important role in stopping people smugglers, although Greece has witnessed an increase in the number of refugees following a coup attempt in Turkey on 15 July.

Vladimir Putin has signed into law a bill to allow visa-free travel for anyone holding tickets to the 2018 World Cup. This visa-free entry regime to Russia will be available for foreigners for the period of the World Cup and for 10 days prior to its start date and 10 days after the final match. Foreigners travelling for the World Cup will be issued with a Fan ID, thanks to which they will be able to travel without a visa and use public transport in the World Cup host cities for free.

Russian officials say that the process of visa liberalisation with Mexico is moving forward at a slower pace than expected, despite Russia continuing to seek visa-free travel with the Central American country. Russia already holds visa-free travel agreements with a number of Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guiana, Peru, and Venezuela.

On 2 June, the Government of Armenia approved visa-free travel for nationals of Iran for up to 90 days in a period of 180 days. Iran followed suit on 11 July, in a show of reciprocal friendship. Armenia is a popular destination for Iranian tourists, and has sought greater cooperation with Iran since sanctions were lifted from Iran in 2015. The visa-free regimes apply to citizens with ordinary and diplomatic passports.

Starting on 3 June and ending on 31 October, citizens of Armenia will be able to benefit from visa-free travel to Montenegro, announced the Armenian Foreign Ministry over Twitter. The visa waiver, which has been implemented by Montenegro for past holiday seasons, only applies to citizens travelling for tourism.

Armenia and Uzbekistan have agreed to a mutual visa waiver agreement for their citizens, who will be able to travel in each other’s countries for up to 90 days. The agreement applies to citizens holding either ordinary or diplomatic passports.

On 14 June, Belarus’s Council of the Republic approved a draft law aimed at ratifying the 1993 protocol on mutual visa-free travel for tourists groups from Belarus and China. Tourist groups must be composed of at least five individuals in order to benefit from the provision.

In mid-July, Belarus’ Chairman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly, Mr Mikhail Myasnikovich, called for renewed consideration of a December 2013 proposal to allow short-term visa-free travel for citizens of Belarus and South Korea. Mr Myasnikovich said the time was particularly ripe for visa-free travel, as Russia and South Korea have recently lifted visa requirements, and there is no border between Belarus and Russia.


Americas

Brazil’s temporary visa-waiver scheme for nationals of Australia, Canada, Japan, and the USA commenced on 1 June. The scheme, first announced in November 2015, is meant to encourage tourists to travel to Brazil during the 2016 Rio Olympics. The four nations were chosen to benefit from visa-free travel after the Brazilian Government “took into account a number of factors such as countries that spend the most in Brazil, are low migration risks, and have a strong Olympic tradition,” noted Mr Henrique Eduardo Alves, Brazil’s Minister of Tourism. The scheme is only due to last until 18 September, but could bring US$80 million to Brazil’s economy.

On 25 July, Brazil and Kazakhstan concluded a bilateral agreement on visa-free travel for their nationals. The agreement will, among other things, enable Brazilians to travel to Astana for EXPO 2017, and Kazaks to visit Brazil for the upcoming Olympic Games.

Canada announced that, as of December 2016, citizens of Mexico would be welcome within its borders without having to obtain a visa beforehand. In exchange, Mexico agreed to open its market to Canadian beef exporters. The Mexican market was closed to Canada in 2003, after the discovery of evidence of mad cow disease in Canadian beef. A statement from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted that visa-free travel would also play a key role in preventing irregular migration and limiting the number of invalid asylum claims made at the Canadian border.

Canada is considering easing visa requirements for national of Mauritius. Nationals of the African island-nation can hope for reduced formalities for those who have visited Canada in the past, as well as the possibility of obtaining a 10-year visa. Finally, high government officials may be awarded visa-free travel. The announcement was made by H.E. Mrs Sandra McCardell, who is the High Commissioner of Canada to Mauritius.

A proposal by the Department of Homeland Security published in the Federal Register of the United States advises the nation to implement social media checks for all foreigners entering the USA on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Under the proposal, foreigners would be asked to include their social media details on a voluntary basis, exclusive of their password, to allow Customs and Border Protection agents to scrutinise their online activities.

Chile has ended visa-free access for diplomats traveling on a passport from Belize, said Chile’s Foreign Minister, Mr Heraldo Munoz, on 19 July. The decision comes following disagreement on Bolivia’s free access to two Chilean ports on the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia argues that freedom of transit to these ports is essential to the nation – one of only two landlocked countries in South America.

The British Virgin Islands (BVI) have announced that, Starting 1 September, any foreign national holding a visa to Canada, the United Kingdom, or the United States who would normally need to apply for a visa in order to carry out business or tourist activities in the BVI will no longer need one. The visa must have at least 6 months validity, and travellers can remain in the BVI for up to 6 months.


Asia

On 23 June, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, ratified three visa-free agreements. The first one enables mutual visa-free travel for ordinary passport holders from Qatar and Turkey. The second one enables holders of diplomatic and special passports from Qatar and Kazakhstan to travel without applying for a visa. The third one allows visa-free travel for diplomats and special passport holders travelling between Qatar and Venezuela.

India and Ghana have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to allow officials from the two countries to travel across their borders without a visa. The agreement, signed by the President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, and the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, only applies to those who hold diplomatic passports.

India’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is considering a proposal from the Department of Commerce to allow visa-free travel for businesspersons and tourists from BRICS (which includes, aside from India, Brazil, China, Russia, and South Africa). The Ministry had initially opposed the proposal, but reassessed its position following discussions with the Office of the Prime Minister. Opposition rests primarily on the arguments that China poses security threats, and that India can turnaround e-visa applications in 48 hours and normal visa applications in three days.

Pakistan has suspended visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic and service passports from Kuwait. Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that the decision turned on the fact that, despite there being a visa-free agreement between Pakistan and Kuwait, Kuwait had still required Pakistani diplomats to present visas at its borders.

Indonesia has waived visas for nationals of Rwanda who visit the country for a maximum of 30 days. Rwandans who enter Indonesia under this visa waiver programme may not extend their stay, or otherwise convert their visa without first re-entering Indonesia. Indonesia is the first-ever Asian nation to grant Rwandans visa-free travel.

On 7 June 2016, Singapore and Myanmar signed a visa waiver agreement allowing their respective citizens to travel within each other’s territories for a period not exceeding 30 days. The agreement will come into force on 1 December 2016, and was signed by Robert Chua, Singapore’s Ambassador to Myanmar, and Kyaw Tin, Myanmar’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

On 30 July, Singapore announced that, as of 1 October, it would be suspending visa-free travel rights for citizens of North Korea. Until then, Singapore will be one of only eight countries offering visa-free travel to North Koreans, including Dominica, Ecuador, Gambia, Haiti, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Micronesia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Citizens of Singapore will soon be able to visit Mongolia visa-free for a period of 30 days – 16 more days than what is currently available to Singaporeans seeking to visit the nation. The change was announced following a meeting between Singapore’s Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, and Mongolia’s Prime Minister, Mr Jargaltulga Erdenebat, on 14 July. Mongolians wishing to travel to Singapore can already do so without a visa for a period of 30 days.

On 15 June 2016, Taiwan announced that it would be easing the issuance of visas for member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) – abolishing visas altogether for certain countries. In July, the announcement was put into practice as Thailand and Brunei obtained visa-free travel to Taiwan for their nationals starting on 1 August. The visa-free regime allows stays of up to 30 days, and is to remain in place for one year. Furthermore, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and Vietnam have obtained visa-free travel for any citizen who, in the past 10 years, received a visa to Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the Schengen Area, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Citizens of these six Asian countries will only need to register online. Before July, only citizens of Singapore and Malaysia could travel without a visa to Taiwan.

An agreement reached on 15 June between China and South Korea promises visa-free travel for students on school trips. “In response to our proposal asking for an exemption of visa fees for young people on school trips, a move aimed at stimulating personnel exchanges, the Chinese side expressed its willingness to go beyond that and exempt the visa itself if we skip the procedure to confirm the name list of travellers,” said the South Korean Foreign Ministry.

As of 9 July, Chinese nationals can travel visa-free between the cities of Dandong, in China, and Sinuju, in North Korea. Chinese travellers must be on half-day tours that must not go beyond a 30,000 metres squared designated zone. China is North Korea’s only ally, but it remains critical of the nation’s nuclear programme.

On 30 June the Government of Vietnam extended visa-free travel for citizens of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Citizens of these five nations were first granted visa-free travel for up to 15 days on 1 July 2015. This visa waiver programme was due to expire on 30 June 2016, but a 15% increase in tourist travel prompted the Government to extend the programme to 30 June 2017.

Malaysia has dismissed a proposal made by its National Security Council to impose visas on citizens of Middle Eastern countries currently holding visa-free travel rights to the nation. As a result, Malaysia will continue to welcome travellers from Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen for a period of 90 days, travellers from Iraq and Syria for 30 days, and travellers from Iran for 14 days.


Africa

Africa’s first pan-African electronic passports were issued on 17 July at the opening of the 27th African Union (AU) summit in Kigali, Rwanda. The passports are currently only being issued to members of governments and diplomats, but the AU’s ultimate goal is to see all AU citizens hold these passports and travel across the AU visa-free by 2020. Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, noted that making e-passports available across the AU is a “steady step toward the objective of creating a strong, prosperous, and integrated Africa, driven by its own citizens and capable of taking its right place in the world stage.”

Namibia has announced that it will be easing travel for citizens of the African Union holding AU diplomatic or ordinary passports, first by allowing them to apply for visas-on-arrival, and secondly by granting them visa-free travel. Namibia’s President, Mr Gage Geingob, stated that the goal of the nation was to ensure visa-free travel to Namibia for all Africans by 2018.

As of 4 July, Ghana will be offering visas-upon-arrival to citizens of all members of the African Union, which comprises all African states minus Morocco. Ghana provides visa-free travel to nationals of the fifteen Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and is hoping that this new move will be a significant first step in the direction of visa-free travel for the entire African continent.

Mauritania is the only country in North Africa to allow nationals from Syria to travel to the country without a visa. However, recent reports indicate that a growing number of Syrians are refused at the border. Mauritania is at times used by Syrian refugees as a platform for entry into Europe.

Starting June 1, Morocco has opened its doors to visa-free travel from citizens of China. The North-African country hopes this will boost Morocco’s tourist sector.

On 15 June, the Prime Minister of Tonga, the Honourable Aklisi Pohiva, announced that Chinese nationals travelling to Tonga through local Tongan tourism agencies would be allowed visa-free stays for up to 30 days. The Government’s goal is to attract tourists from China while also supporting local entrepreneurship.

Cameroon’s Parliament has received calls to authorise the ratification of a visa-free travel agreement with Italy, thanks to which holders of Cameroonian and Italian diplomatic and service passports willbe able to travel in each other’s territories without a visa for up to 90 days. The agreement followed Italian President Sergio Mattarella’s first state visit to Cameroon.


Oceania

Senator Dennis Rodriguez Jr. of Guam introduced Resolution 308-33 to petition for the inclusion of citizens from Vietnam and the Philippines into the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Programme. On 20 June, the resolution received the support of Madeleine Bordallo, the Guam Delegate and a member of the US Congress.

 

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