Three million Ukrainians can soon visit EU visa-free
Some 3 million Ukrainians will soon have the right to travel as tourists to the European Union without having to apply for a visa, following the European Parliament's agreement that Ukraine fulfilled the criteria for the EU's visa waiver programme.
MEPs on Thursday (6 April) overwhelmingly supported adding Ukraine to the list of countries that are exempt from short-stay visa requirements.
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The proposal, which was agreed with the Council of the EU, where national governments meet, was supported by 521 MEPs, with 75 voting against, and 36 abstaining.
It only needs a rubber stamp from the Council in a move expected on 26 April and is expected to enter into force in June.
“Ukraine has achieved all the benchmarks, so the visa requirement should be lifted”, centre-right Bulgarian MEP Mariya Gabriel, responsible for steering the file through parliament, said in a press release.
She added the decision sends a “very strong message that Ukraine is a key partner” for the EU.
Only Ukrainians with a biometric passport will be allowed to travel to the EU visa-free, for 90 days in a 180-day period. The visa-free programme may be used for tourism, visiting friends or relatives, or for business trips, but not to work.
The United Kingdom and Ireland are not part of the scheme, while non-EU countries Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are.
Ukraine started handing out biometric passports for foreign travel on 1 January 2015.
On Wednesday (5 April), Ukrainian media reported that almost 3 million biometric passports have been issued. Ukraine has a population of around 45 million.
The EU decision comes after it granted visa-free travel for Moldova and for Georgia, two other former Soviet states seeking to align themselves with the West.
It had been in talks with Russia on a visa waiver, but these were suspended when it invaded Ukraine in 2014, among other sanctions.
Ukraine is still fighting a low-intensity war with Russian proxy forces in the east of the country.
The OSCE, a multilateral European body that is monitoring events, said there were more than 630 explosions along the line of contact on Tuesday and Wednesday and that heavy weapons were still being used despite a ceasefire accord.