In May 2017, Ukraine and the European signed a landmark agreement, a legislative regime that grants holders of a Ukrainian biometric passport* visa-free access to participating EU countries and Schengen region. The regulation officially goes into effect starting tonight, on June 11, 2017.
The regulation stipulates that citizens of Ukraine who possess a biometric passport can enter an EU country for 90 days (approximately 3 months) during a 180 day period for business, tourism, or family-related purposes. However, the regulation falls short of including the United Kingdom (UK) and Ireland. According to the agreement, the ability to work, study, or reside in the EU will not be made available for Ukrainian travelers within the EU member states and Schengen region.
At a press conference for the legislation, Petro Poroshenko, the president of Ukraine stated, “Today is a historical day for Ukraine, for my 45-million nation...I am absolutely confident that this is a historical day for the EU. Ukraine returns to the European family. Ukraine says final farewell to the Soviet and Russian empire.” Poroshenko further added, “It feels like coming home after a long and exhausting journey,” and that Ukraine was on its way to “becoming part of a common European civilization.”
Although Ukraine-EU relations discussed potential for a visa deal as early as 2008, specifics of the regulation were not approved by the European Commission until 2015 due to prolonged negotiations and a series of delays.
For Ukraine, gaining visa-free access to the EU has been a difficult process often frustrated by regional strife, including the removal of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014.
Despite the country’s ongoing conflict with Russia, Ukraine signed an economic and political Association Agreement (AA) with the EU in 2015, which focused on reform measures in areas of democratic and judicial governance, trade, human rights, and mobility, with the latter including the possibility of removing visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens.
The Ukraine-EU Association Agreement, along with the May 2017 decision to formally remove visa requirements, was viewed positively by the European Commission. In an official statement, the European Commission held that “visa-free travel to the Schengen area will soon become a reality—it is an important and well-deserved moment for Ukraine and its citizens that will make our already close relations even stronger.”
For the Ukrainian government, the long-awaited regulation formally removing visa restrictions signifies a milestone event and an encouraging step towards acquiring EU membership.
While optimism for a lasting relationship remains high between the EU and Ukraine, the capital city of Kiev has remained an area of conflict following Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula, which was Ukrainian territory. Citing issues that could potentially arise from turmoil in the region, the European Council made it clear the visa agreement included a caveat for suspending Ukraine’s visa-free regime if serious migration or security risks became evident.
*A biometric passport contains enhanced security features that allow authorities to verify a traveler’s personal information and citizenship. These features include complex passport pages, watermarks, and a data chip that provides detailed information of the holder, as well as an electronic signature.
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