It took seven years, seven months and 12 days to Ukraine to get visa free travel for its citizens in the European Union. But finally, it happened and from midnight this Sunday, 11 June 2017, all holders of Ukrainian biometric passports will be able to travel to the Schengen states without prior authorisation.
Visa free travel covers only short stays up to 90 days for 180-days period and is designed for business, tourist or family purposes. Visas for longer travel, for example for work or for education will still be required. This visa waver applies to all EU member states, except the United Kingdom and Ireland. Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, which are part of Schengen visa-free zone, will also open their borders for Ukrainian travellers from 11 June.
Back in December 2015, the European Commission found that Ukraine had met all the benchmarks of the visa liberalization plan and was ready for the exemption of the visa requirements. Four months later the EU executive body published its proposal for visa liberalisation. Although all technical criteria were there, the final decision to drop the visa requirements was the adoption on 27 February 2017 by the EU member states of a revised suspension mechanism, which can be applied to all existing visa liberalisation agreements. This mechanism is making easier for EU countries to ask for interruption of visa free travel by extending grounds for suspension and accelerating the procedure for intermission to two months following a request from one single Schengen state.
From there on the EU legislative process sped up and on 11 May in Strasbourg, in the presence of the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, the final law was signed by the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani (photo).
The legislation that took such a long time to agree upon is just a brief, three-page regulation with which EU is moving Ukraine from the list of non-EU states with visa regime to the one of safe countries.
In particular, the Regulation (EU) 2017/850 says that the European Union:
“…(c)onsidered that Ukraine has met all the benchmarks set out in the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan presented to the Ukrainian Government in November 2010, and therefore fulfils the relevant criteria for its citizens to be exempted from the visa requirement when travelling to the territory of Member States. The continuous fulfilment by Ukraine of such criteria, especially on the fight against organised crime and corruption, will be duly monitored by the Commission in accordance with the relevant mechanism set out in Regulation (EC) No 539/2001”.
Currently the EU visa refusal rate for Ukrainians is below 2 %. The EU-Ukraine readmission agreement is in force since 2008, and according to the European Parliament Kiev “has demonstrated excellent cooperation and efficiency, with the return rate exceeding 80 %.”
The decision for visa liberalisation is an acknowledgment of the successful and far-reaching reforms carried out by Ukraine, often in very challenging circumstances”, the European home affairs and migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said in May. He hailed Ukrainian authorities for “their commitment to address the fight against corruption as a matter of priority and for caring out important reforms in the fields of border management and anti-discrimination”.
Unlike visa free initiation for Georgia on 28 March, Avramopoulos will not travel to Ukraine for the inauguration of visa free travel due to agenda constrains, a member of his team told OPEN Media Hub. The commissioner on European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn was in Ukraine a week ago and already congratulated its citizens in advance, he added.
The European Commission will use instead use its social media channels to send its message to the Ukrainians. On 11 June, the EU high representative on foreign policy Federica Mogherini, the EU commissioners Johannes Hanh and on Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos, will go on Twitter to greet and prise the efforts (and the patience) of the Ukrainians with short video messages. You can follow them respectively for Mogherini on @FedericaMog , for Hanh – @JHahnEU and for Avramopoulos on @Avramopoulos .
Expect similar activities from the European Council and the European Parliament. No translation of events in Ukraine are previewed by the EU audio-visual channel EBS.
The EU Regulation on visa free travel with Ukraine
Visa liberalisation with Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine
Visa liberalisation for Ukraine – press material from the European Parliament
Sixth European Commission progress report on the implementation by Ukraine of EU benchmarks for visa liberalisation
Press Release from the Council on adoption the decision for visa liberalisation for Ukraine
Press Release: Council adopts regulation on visa liberalisation for Ukrainian citizens
Press Release for European Parliament’s approval for Ukraine visa waver
Press Release on the adoption of revised visa suspension mechanism by the Council
OMH Video: Interview with German Member of the European Parliament Rebecca Harms on visa liberalisation for Ukraine