On May 13, the Council of the European Union approved the amended EU-Ukraine visa facilitation agreement, expanding the list of persons, who can use the simplified visa regime, and reducing the list of documents required for obtaining a visa.

Ukraine’s commissioner on foreign policy and integration processes and representative to the EU Kostiantyn Yeliseyev informed that the agreement is expected to come into force on July 1, 2013.

According to the document, the simplified procedure for issuing visas applies to drivers engaged in international cargo and passenger transportation, journalists and technical staff accompanying them, participants of official exchange programs organized by the local authorities, close relatives, spouses, children, parents, grandparents, grandchildren that are visiting Ukrainian citizens living in the EU member states, or EU citizens, as well as citizens that travel to the EU for medical treatment. A simplified procedure is also introduced for members of public organizations participating in seminars and conferences, participants of international exhibitions, conference, and symposiums, members of religious communities, and participants of official EU programs for cross-border cooperation.

The document stipulates that diplomatic missions and consulates of the EU issue five-year multiple entry to the following categories of people: members of central and local government, the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court, prosecutors and their deputies, permanent members of official delegations, one of the spouses and children aged under 21 of those who have a valid residence permit in one of the member states, or EU citizens, and businessmen and representatives of business entities who regularly visit EU member states.

ForUm has asked experts how easy could it be now to for Ukrainians to get a Schengen visa.

Kost' Bondarenko, expert, political scientist, president of the Institute of Ukrainian politics:

- Both Ukraine and Europe understand that simplification is necessary. Where there is visa regime, there is also corruption. I believe that for some time the visa regime simplification process will have many opponents: those, who used to make profit out of visa issuing.

I do hope that the adopted decision will simplify the procedure for drivers engaged in international cargo and passenger transportation, for example. However, we should take into account, that many similar norms are hushed up. Back in 2007 the EU adopted a resolution simplifying visa procedure for many categories of people, but only a few knew about it. Journalists, for example, can apply for at least one-year visa, but many journalists still run into problems with that. However, there several embassies, which do follow the agreement, Polish and Slovak for example.

Taras Chornovil, former head of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs:

- These simplifications concern certain categories of people only, and the practice shows that formal decisions do not the situation much. Journalists are the best example. Several years ago visa regime was simplified for them, but being in journalism myself I can tell it has not become easier. In fact, the only simplification is that certain categories of citizens do not have to pay for visa, but it also does not guarantee positive results. Embassies can always declare that you are going to Europe not for the stated purpose of travel. Thus, this decision is a pure formality.

Anatoly Kinakh, MP, deputy chairman of the Party of Regions faction, member of the parliamentary committee on national security and defense, former Premier:

- This is indeed an applied decision and very important for us. Though this decision does not cover all layers of the population, at least some categories of our citizens can enjoy simplified procedure. This a next step towards visa free regime. I want to remind that Ukraine has made an important concession to Europe, having canceled visa regime for all Europeans. Thus Europe owes us. However, Ukraine still has a lot of work to do before signing the Association Agreement in November of this year.

Having done the serious work, Ukraine may obtain visa free regime in 2015-2016. However, considering our geographic position, we must take into account the national interests. Our eastern and south-eastern borders are rather porous, and we must protect our territory from illegal migration, international terrorism, drug and weapon trafficking. Working on the visa free regime with the EU we must do everything not to become a pit for scum of society. We also should remember that the visa free regime is not an end in itself.

Oleksiy Garan, professor of the political science faculty of the National Kyiv Mohyla-Academy:

- Some EU members already follow the simplified visa procedure for Ukrainians - Poland and Germany, for example. However, not all EU states have been friendly to us, thus the decision approved by the Council of Europe is a big step forward.

However, speaking about simplification of the visa free regime and criticizing European bureaucracy, we should not violate the rules ourselves. We all know that many our citizens forge documents to obtain a visa. Unemployed people, for example, make forged certificates of a good salary, etc. If Ukrainians behave like this, there is no surprise Europe repays in kind.

Bohdan Oleksyuk, expert of the Institute of open politics:

- I think the given decision will not change the life of Ukrainians very much or the frequency of foreign trips. Obviously, it is a positive event, but certain categories of citizens did not have problems with obtaining visas before, and EU embassies issued long-term visas for Ukrainians before as well.
What can be of real use is cancellation of visa regime. Take Poland, for example. The EU cancelled visa regime for Polish people at the beginning of 90s, when Poland was not an EU member yet. Thanks to this, the integration process went smoothly for Poland.

Ukrainians, however, do not go abroad often. In fact, only 17% of our citizens have been in the EU. The European Union probably fears the inflow of criminals. But the fact is that criminals find a way to cross the borders, and visas have nothing to do with it.

Oleksandr Shushko, scientific director of the Institute of Euro-Atlantic cooperation:

- We should not expect some sensational changes from this decision. It does not replace the cancellation of the visa regime, thus it should not be presented as a significant achievement. For some categories of people, however, these changes are important. Journalists, for example, enjoyed simplified procedure before, but the technical staff did not. With the adopted decision, all media workers will finally have equal rights. The same concerns the spheres of science, education and culture. New visa terms are also important. The adopted resolution, for example, provides for "one-year long-term visa", while before it was stipulated "up to one year".  "up to one year" could be for a day or two, while now it is one year full. It is a small bureaucratic thing, but of great importance. In  general, the adopted decision is a positive step, but it still does not solve all the problems.


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