As spring approaches, so does the urge to dislodge ourselves from our winter slumber and entertain ideas of coming travels. 2013 already has been a year of opening doors to travel which were previously shut by visa requirements– starting with Armenia, visa-free travel is becoming not just a hot topic, but a progressive action, increasingly lobbied for in many, perhaps even unexpected, places.
Be a good neighbour…
In the past week Poland has proposed that the European Union scrap visa-requirements with Russia, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova–a move which the Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorksi has endorsed whole-heartedly saying:
“We have high hopes for the Eastern Partnership Summit to be held in Vilnius in November. Full success will come with the signing of association and free trade agreements with Ukraine and the conclusion of negotiations on similar agreements with Moldova, Georgia, and Armenia. We are striving to include the citizens of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, as well as Russia, in a visa-free system.”
Armenia has already opened visa-free travel this year with Schengen states.
Lithuania has already taken steps to facilitate this process as it applies to Ukraine and Russia, implementing a new visa-scheme in both countries by setting up 28 visa centers, making it possible for citizens of the two nations to apply for visas more accessibly, as well as in Lithuanian embassies. The centers are set to open in March and April. The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying:
“Cooperation with the provider of services is a new opportunity for foreigners willing to come to Lithuania and Lithuanian businesses, which are urged to take advantage of the opportunity, as such geographic coverage and access was not available until now.”
Meanwhile… “Belarus is one of the world leaders in terms of the number of people who are denied entry into the European Union, according to a report by the Vilnius-based Belarusian Institute of Strategic Studies (BISS)”.
Regional solutions within and outside the EU are quite popular. Macedonia also has made news for its discussion of visas in recent weeks, after announcing a decision to temporarily revoke short-stay visa requirements for citizens of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, for the coming year–specifically the period between 15 March 2013 and 15 March 2014. It was said that such an action is in the interest of promoting tourism and boosting cooperation.
Georgia is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination for Iraqis, who share a visa-free scheme with the country, and have recently opened new direct flight routes. In step, Russia has offered to cancel visa requirements for Georgian citizens, if Georgia amends certain legalities which would ensure the safety of Russian citizens visiting the country. The Caucasus are a popular tourist destination for neighbouring Russians, and in spite of tense relations between the two, mark another possible bridge to healing rifts between the two–steps for which have been taken in recent months as dialogue between Russia and Georgia has reopened after a stalemate which lasted since 2008. Alexander Lukashevich, spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, explained:
“We emphasize once again that we were and are interested in strengthening the ties between the peoples of Russia and Georgia. We are ready to establish mutual visa-free regime for the citizens of Georgia. This requires that the Georgian side provides a reliable legal environment that can guarantee the safety of Russians visiting Georgia.”
Have visa, will travel!
Last week, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has published an investigative report on global tourism, which among other things, includes statistics about the countries which are most open to foreigners. The report, entitled ‘The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report’, explains that such increasing openness, and the elimination of travel barriers, is vital to global development, as the benefits of tourism extend far beyond mere travel:
“…the need for greater openness remains one of the major trends impacting the T&T sector, especially with regard to the freer movement of people…as a vehicle for job creation, economic growth and development and furthermore committed to work towards developing travel facilitation initiatives in support of job creation, quality work, poverty reduction and global growth.”