Do normal visa and residency rules apply during a global pandemic? Many foreigners in Ukraine remain unsure. While the legal picture is still somewhat ambiguous, the available evidence suggests caution may be the most sensible option.
Ukraine first enforced coronavirus lockdown regulations on March 12, 2020. With international travel heavily restricted, large numbers of foreign citizens suddenly found themselves forced to remain in Ukraine illegally through no fault of their own.
In recognition of these extraordinary circumstances, the Ukrainian parliament passed a law in March 2020 that implied foreigners would not be liable for overstaying during quarantine periods and would remain legal for a further 30 days following the lifting of restrictions. Despite this effort to provide foreign guests with clarity, there is still confusion over the status of non-Ukrainians in Ukraine during coronavirus lockdowns.
Discussion over the exact terms of Ukraine’s new lockdown migration legislation has centered on the legal implications of the wording. The new law states that foreigners can overstay “if such violations occurred during or as a result of the quarantine.”
Many law firms have requested written clarification from Ukraine’s State Migration Service regarding the correct interpretation of this language. The official response has been that “these norms apply to foreigners and stateless persons who were legally staying in Ukraine as of the beginning of quarantine measures.”
The key phrase in the legislation appears to be “as a result of the quarantine.” It would seem that foreigners must meet two conditions in order to avoid being subject to liability for overstaying. They must have already been in Ukraine when quarantine began, and must not have had any opportunity to leave Ukraine due to quarantine restrictions.
Current evidence indicates that the State Migration Service continues to penalize foreigners for overstaying. Ukraine’s courts have adopted a similar approach. For example, one Vietnamese man faced a fine and deportation from Ukraine in July 2020 for overstaying. A court subsequently rejected his quarantine-based appeal against this decision.
The judge hearing the Vietnamese man’s case dismissed his appeals as “groundless”. Instead, he ruled that the new regulations only apply to foreigners who have been unable to leave Ukraine and those who have not been able to apply to the relevant authorities to request an extension of their stay in the country.
This was not an isolated case. During the peak lockdown period from April until June 2020, Ukraine’s State Migration Service penalized 1,131 foreigners for violations.
In light of the available data and specific examples, it seems far too optimistic to assume that foreigners who overstay in Ukraine will be able to use quarantine exemptions in order to avoid penalties. On the contrary, it would be smart to assume that normal restrictions continue to apply.
About the author: Serhii Aleksandrov is the Managing Partner at Legal Ideas law firm