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Translated by Ollie Richardson


Last week “Strana” published the article “the pitfalls of the visa-free regime”, which was about the problems that can arise for Ukrainians who will travel to the EU without visas.

The article caused a big resonance and many disputes. To once again to draw the attention of readers to the possible problematic points when crossing border (in order to avoid them – to be warned is to be prepared) “Strana” analysed the data of the report of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex.

Thus, some interesting tendencies were found concerning the citizens of Ukraine, and also the countries that already earlier received a visa-free regime with the EU.

It is possible to study the source documents here (the general statistics for 2016 and risk analysis for 2017) and here (analytics for 2016 quarterly).

Perhaps one of the main mistakes made in connection with the visa-free regime is that it is possible to drive on the territory of the EU and afterwards to do anything there, including to get a job and violate the terms of stay in the country. It is said that, all the same, nobody will blow your cover.

At the same time, the statistics of Frontex show that annually in the EU hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants are found. Thus, characteristically, Ukrainians claimed first place in this category in the fourth quarter of 2016, even ahead of Afghans (who earlier confidently claimed first place). For the fourth quarter in Europe more than 9,000 Ukrainian-illegals were revealed (for the past year in total – nearly 30,000 people).

Also, it is worth paying attention to the fact that in third place in the rating of illegal immigrants there is Albania, which has had a visa-free regime with the EU since 2010, and the population of the country is small. So the high rates of Albanians can’t be thought of as a huge human stream across the border.

The second popular myth is that on the border upon entry into the Schengen area nobody will ask you to show additional documents, and the probability that you will pass according to only one biometric passport is close to zero.

This myth is also broken using harsh European statistics. Let’s begin with the fact that over the last year thousands of Ukrainians were stopped on the border (i.e. even with visas). Ukraine in this indicator is second only to the Russian Federation. But in third place – visa-free Albania. In sixth – visa-free Serbia, ninth – visa-free Moldova. Of course, as a percentage of the total number of people entering the Schengen area, this is small figure. But the probability of such an unpleasant “turnaround at the border” as we see, is not zero.

The most common cause of failure – the inability to confirm via documents the purpose and conditions of stay in the EU (i.e. the very same verification of additional documents for proof of place of residence and the existence of money, which allegedly nobody at the border will ask about). And here we again see Ukraine in second place, and in third – visa-free Albania.

In addition, last year decisions were made on the deportation of 24,649 Ukrainians. This is 7,000 more than last year. On this indicator Ukraine cedes place only to Afghanistan and Iraq. And this, we will repeat, was even before the introduction of a visa-free regime. And the number of decisions on the deportation of Ukrainians shows steady growth for the last four years. It is possible only to guess what these figures will be after the introduction of a visa-free regime.

In the indicative statistics on actually carried out deportations the leading place is taken by the same visa-free Albania.

If to consider this indicator on types of deportations (compulsory or voluntary), in the first case Ukraine takes 7th place, and in second Ukraine is the leader.


What the figures across Ukraine tell

“In some ways it is visible from these statistics the possible risks to citizens of Ukraine after the visa-free regime comes into effect,” notes the scientific Director of the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation Aleksandr Sushko.

This is primarily the indicators in which Ukraine is among the leaders: the number of refusals of entry in the EU (Ukraine is in second place after Russia), number of deportations and number of the citizens who are illegally staying in Europe.

However, experts are inclined to connect such high rates of Ukraine with the population of our country.

“It is necessary to remember that Ukraine is one of largest States neighboring the EU. That’s why in absolute figures, of course, the situation with Ukrainian citizens can seem to the difficult. But look at Albania, where the population is 10 times less than that of Ukraine, and the number of deported and those to who entrance was refused – it is almost the same as in Ukraine. In proportion to the population, Ukrainians are refused entrance even less than the citizens of other countries,” notes Sushko.

But, at the same time, it is impossible to deny that the general figure of refusals for the last year grew significantly: there were 5,000 in a quarter, and at the end of 2016 – it was already more than 6,000.

Experts don’t exclude the probability that the number of Ukrainian citizens denied entry with the introduction of the visa-free regime will increase — taking into account the fact that those interested in traveling to the EU won’t be “filtered” any more by consular establishments, which carefully check the package of documents of Ukrainians upon receiving a visa. Now from the control mechanism there are only border guards who will have the right to refuse entrance if the traveler isn’t able to prove the purpose of their visit.

“I predict that in the first months of the visa-free regime the number of refusals issued to the citizens of Ukraine when entering the EU will become more. It is inevitable, at least at first. We have to understand that in Ukraine now there are at least some tens of thousands of people who in the past had problems with obtaining visas who was deported or received a ban on entrance. All these people now have biometric passports and wait for June 11th. In the first weeks/months after the introduction of the visa-free regime they will try to get into the EU again. It is clear that a considerable part of them won’t be allowed in Europe. And it will lead to a growth in the figure of refusals at the cordon,” explained Aleksandr Sushko

So, the border service of Poland already predicted an increase in denials of entry being issued to Ukrainians since the beginning of the visa-free regime.

“If you look at the Balkan countries, the same Albania, except Serbia, in all other countries the statistics on number of returns and denials of entry grew after they received a visa-free regime with the EU. And the indicator of refusals afterwards steadily grows. Judging by the Frontex statistical data, there is reason to believe that with Ukrainians after the introduction of the visa-free regime there will be the same. We will still take first place in the number of illegal immigrants, denials of entry, deportations, forgeries, after all their numbers only grew over the past few years,” said the President of Association of Troubleshooters Sergey Kreymer.

The problem of staying illegally in the EU will become one more serious problem for the Ukrainian visa-free regime. Because after the introduction of the visa-free regime, so-called illegal migrants will add not only to those whose visa period of validity or residence permit expired, but also those who will exceed the limit of short-term stay in the EU without a visa (90 days within each 180 day period) who have to be reckoned with. In addition, in the near future everywhere in the EU will undergo so-called cleaning up: they will start checking people who received permission to stay in the country and have refugee status. Those who fail this re-test will also be transferred to the status of illegal immigrants.

And yet, from the point of view of experts, initially the indicator of uncovered Ukrainian illegal immigrants will increase in the EU at the expense of labor migrants, who will try to use the visa-free regime to simplify the crossing of the border for the purpose of illegal employment.

“You won’t argue with statistics, Ukrainians really are one of leaders in the number of attempts to illegally get a job in the EU. Ukraine is not only a big country near the EU with a large population, but it is also a country with quite a low-level of salary. So it is quite natural that many Ukrainians after the introduction of the visa-free regime will try to get into the EU to earn more there than they can here. Perhaps, not especially educated citizens due to ignorance will go to the European Union in search of a better life. But they, unambiguously, face disappointment. Nobody in the EU is willing to pay hundreds of euros for Ukrainians, and to not pay thousands of ‘locals’. In Europe there is a very strict labor code, which protects both employers and their employees,” said the political analyst Petro Zhuravel to “Strana”, reminding that the visa-free regime doesn’t grant the right for legal employment in Europe.

“Currently many still don’t understand what the rules of entrance to the EU are, or what set of documents should be carried. In any case, what can be said about ordinary citizens if the President said during the opening of the Istanbul Park in Odessa that for travel to Europe biometric passports will suffice alone! And more so, they say that supposedly no other documents are necessary. How many people more are going to fall for this? They won’t be allowed to cross the border, and all such cases will now be registered as denials of entry,” notes Sergey Kreymer, reminding that at the border the Ukrainian tourist will need to confirm the existence of means for the trip and its purpose, having shown, for example, a hotel reservation, a return ticket, funds based on the minimum required amount to visit one or another EU country.

But there is one nuance: if illegal crossing of the border or a denial of entry is immediately reflected in the statistics, the illegal stay in the EU for sure won’t.

“Violators can be found in a year or in three years. I.e., progress will not be so fast. Even if the number of illegal Ukrainian migrants will increase in the EU, in the statistics for 2017 this growth definitely won’t be noticeable. Although, certainly, some Ukrainians will try to find a job illegally in the EU,” notes Aleksandr Sushko.

Does the cancellation of the visa-free regime threaten us

As a reminder, the granting of a visa-free regime to Ukraine and Georgia by prudent Euro-bureaucrats, who are now faced with the greatest migratory crisis since World War II, was tied to the adoption of a mechanism for the suspension of the visa-free regime. It will be applied in such a case:

  • an essential and sharp growth in the number of citizens to which entrance is refused;

  • an increase in the number of citizens of Ukraine who are on the territory of EU Member States without the relevant documents and permissions;

  • an increases in the number of asylum requests from Ukrainians;

  • relaxation of cooperation in the field of readmission;

  • significant increase in refusals of a readmission of the citizens;

  • essential growth of risks for a state policy or internal security of member countries.

A substantial and sharp growth means an increase of at least one of the indicators stated above of more than 50% in two months in comparison with the same period of previous year or two months before the introduction of the visa-free regime. I.e., in the case of Ukraine, the basis for the launch of the mechanism of suspension would be a situation where in the third quarter of 2017, after the entrance of the visa-free regime, at least 12,000 citizens of Ukraine will be refused entrance (considering that for the third quarter of 2016, judging by the data of Frontex, 7,941 Ukrainians were not allowed in Europe).

However, it is too early to judge the probability of the practical use of this mechanism.

“The decision on granting a visa-free regime to Ukraine was made already when all these statistics on the growth of refusals and illegal immigrants were known. And if this decision was made, and these figures didn’t confuse Euro-bureaucrats then, then it means that it is a big problem the EU didn’t consider. Most likely, these indicators aren’t critical for the European Union. If it were otherwise, the EU would do everything possible so that the decision on the visa-free regime was postponed,” summarised Aleksandr Sushko.

In general, according to experts, currently it is still too early to speak about the concrete threat for Ukraine concerning the mechanism of the suspension of the visa-free regime, but it is necessary to remember about it.

“But in the future we need to very closely monitor statistical indicators. Especially – regarding denials of entry on the border, an increase of which in the first months of the visa-free regime is inevitable,” considers Sushko. Therefore, the extent to which individual citizens will comply with the rules of entry and stay in the EU, and the fate of visa-free travel will depend on this.

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