The European Commission gave the green light on 20 April to the lifting of the visa barrier on Ukrainian citizens, opening the way for a potentially game-changing breakthrough in Ukraine’s bid for greater European integration.
The European Commission sent an official proposal to the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament to lift visa requirements for the citizens of Ukraine by transferring Ukraine to the list of countries whose citizens can travel without a visa to the Schengen area. This proposal comes after the Commission gave a positive assessment in December 2015, confirming that Ukraine successfully met all benchmarks under the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP).
REWARD FOR UKRAINIAN REFORMS
European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos praised Ukraine’s reform efforts in his comments on the decision: "Today we follow up on our commitment to propose short-stay visa-free travel to the EU for Ukrainian citizens with biometric passports – facilitating people-to-people contacts and strengthening business, social and cultural ties between the EU and Ukraine. This is the result of the success of the Ukrainian government in achieving far-reaching and difficult reforms in the Justice and Home Affairs area and beyond, impacting on areas such as the rule of law and justice reform. I am very satisfied with the progress achieved, it is an important achievement for the citizens of Ukraine, and I hope that the European Parliament and the Council will adopt our proposal very soon."
Once the proposal will be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, Ukrainian citizens with biometric passports will no longer require visas when travelling for short stays of up to 90 days to the Schengen area. The visa-free travel will apply to all EU Member States except for Ireland and the UK, as well as the four Schengen associated countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). The exemption concerns only short-stay visas valid for up to 90 days of travel in any 180-day period for business, tourist or family purposes. The visa exemption does not provide for the right to work in the EU. Other entry conditions for accessing the Schengen area will continue to apply, including the need to be able to prove sufficient financial means and the purpose of the travel.
Visa-free EU travel could serve as a significant victory for Ukraine as the country seeks to move closer to Europe. President Poroshenko has portrayed the removal of the EU visa barrier as a key national objective. If confirmed by the European Parliament and Council of the European Union, the removal of visa requirements would be trumpeted as one of the first tangible positive results of the country’s European pivot following two years of conflict and economic crisis. It would be a huge boost for the business community, enabling ease of travel throughout the EU and facilitating greater connections between Ukrainian and EU businesses. It would also provide the country with a major psychological boost, bringing to an end 25 years of strict visa policies towards Ukraine that have led many to complain of being treated as second-class European citizens.
UKRAINIAN MASS EXODUS UNLIKELY
Critics have warned that the removal of visa restrictions will lead to an EU exodus of Ukrainians fleeing from conflict and poverty. However, The new visa-free regime will only allow for 90-day stays and includes no right to work or receive any social benefits. In other words, any Ukrainian citizen seeking to reside within the EU would face the same barriers and legal obstacles that are currently in place. The only change would be an easing of physical access to those able to demonstrate sufficient funds to travel under the new visa-free terms. This is hardly likely to spark a flood of Ukrainian migrants.