This is a re-posting of an explanatory note on new Schengen visa policy, by David Stulík
David Stulík is the Press and Information Officer of the Delegation of the European Union to Ukraine.
Schengen visas seem to be an ever-green issue in the Ukrainian media. In most, however, one can read irritated stories rather than positive coverage of EU visa policy. One reasons might be the fact that those who obtain Schengen visas without any problem (and these are a vast majority) do not write “thank you letters” to the media, which, in turn, do not focus on such stories.
Nevertheless, there has been a huge positive development this week related to Schengen visa issuance, which deserves some more explanation. Namely, the EU council (ministers of EU Member States) ratified the further simplification (facilitation) of visa regime for certain categories of Ukrainian citizens. These changes would come into force on July 1, 2013.
What is the essence of these changes?
1) The number of categories of Ukrainian citizens who can apply for multiple and long-term visas has been significantly extended. As of July 1, the following groups of Ukrainian citizens will find it easier to apply for Schengen visas: drivers dealing with international cargo and passenger transportation services, journalists as well as the technical crew accompanying them (for example, cameramen); participants in official exchange programs organized by municipal entities other than twin cities; close relatives of EU citizens residing in the territory of the Member State of which they are nationals; people accompanying persons visiting for medical reasons; representatives of civil society organizations undertaking trips for the purposes of educational training, seminars, conferences; members of the professions participating in international exhibitions, conferences, symposia, seminars or other similar events; representatives of religious communities; and participants in official EU cross-border cooperation programs;
2) Contrary to the current practice, long-term multiple visas will be issued “for the period of one/five years” and not “up to one/five years”. This means that such categories like business people and journalists would eventually need to apply for Schengen visas only once every five years. Within those five years they will be able to travel to Schengen countries any time they want. Other groups mentioned above as well as students, scientists, artists, athletes and their accompanying staff will be granted one-year multiple entry visas;
3) All these groups of Ukrainian citizens (with the exception of drivers) will get their visas free of charge;
4) The European Union obliges itself to establish a harmonized list of supporting documents in order to ensure that Ukrainian applicants for short-stay visas are required to submit, in principle, the same supporting documents in each EU Member State consulate issuing Schengen visas.
It is worth mentioning that the facilitated visa regime, which has been in place so far, already had a number of benefits for Ukrainian citizens:
1) The reduced fee of 35 euro for the visa (instead of the standard 60 euros);
2) People under 25 years, who take part in n seminars, conferences, sports, cultural or educational events, organized by non-profit organizations have enjoyed a full visa fee waiver;
3) The decision on a visa application has been limited to 10 days after its receipt.
So does this visa facilitation (simplification) mean that the visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens is now closer to them?
Actually, the visa-free regime is a completely separate story, which is a subject to a separate process, the so-called visa-free dialog between the EU and Ukraine. In 2010, the EU presented a document in Ukraine called Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP), which contains necessary legislative and institutional conditions, which Ukraine needs to meet in order to be considered by the EU for a visa-free regime. The VLAP is divided into two phases:
1) Phase I focuses on the adoption of a number of key laws related to the visa issues;
2) Phase II will then concentrate on the implementation of these laws and on the effective functioning of those institutions set up in the Phase I.
As of today, Ukraine remains in the Phase I, eg. a certain number of laws still must be implemented, certain institutions are still be to be established in order to move on to Phase II, like it is the case with neighboring Moldova.
Among those laws that need to be adopted are anti-corruption, anti-discrimination and data protection bills.
The EU has taken a note of recent legislative initiatives undertaken by the Ukrainian parliament, but it should be stressed that all the VLAP benchmarks need to be addressed and implemented in line with EU standards and norms.
Once both phases of VLAP are fully implemented, the EU Member States would be in the position to make their final decision on granting Ukraine and its citizens a visa-free regime. But bearing in mind all that legislative and institution-building process, which needs to be completed by Ukraine, it is clear that the pace with which Ukraine approaches visa-free travel with Europe is fully under the control of Ukrainian authorities.