A Year of Visa-Free Travel with the EU: The Mass Pilgrimage of Ukrainians to Europe Has Failed

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



June 11th will mark exactly one year since the moment that the visa-free regime between Ukraine and the countries of the Schengen area came into force. During this time Ukrainians received 8.5 million biometric passports, but Ukrainians used the visa-free regime a little more than half a million times. This was reported by BBC Ukraine.

The reports of border guards about the departure of Ukrainians to the EU for the first “visa-free year” brightly testify that a considerable part of the people who stood in line for a biometric passport, necessary for trips, didn’t actually use it.

The State Border Service stated that in one year Ukrainians used the visa-free 517,000 times. This concerns trips to the EU with a biometric passport, without a valid visa.

However, this is the number of entries, but not people. Border guards say that they can’t precisely count how many people traveled.

Most Ukrainians went in to the EU for a year of visa-free travel by the old rules.

In general, from June, 2017 to June, 2018 Ukrainians went to the EU 19.5 million times, and from them about 4 million – using biometric passports, but with a valid visa.

The validity of these visas is gradually ending and visa-free travelers are becoming more and more.

In the first months of visa-free travel it was used 80,000 times per month on average, in the autumn and winter the excitement subsided, and since the spring of 2018 the quantity of visa-free travel again quickly grew, report the border guards.

The public organisation “Europe Without Barriers”, being guided by data of the EU, considers that in 2017, when the visa-free regime had been working for half a year, the number of requests from Ukrainians for visas was cut by half – from about 1.4 million to 720,000.

How and where do Ukrainians go on visa-free travel?

According to border guards, 36% of visa-free travelers in the EU used planes.

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Romania unexpectedly became a “visa-free gateway” to the EU from Ukraine – over the past year 23% of Ukrainians drove there, and to Poland – 21%.

Tourists and workers

Border guards pointed out another trend – during the period of the visa-free alone the total number of trips of Ukrainians to EU countries significantly increased.

If in 2016 a departure from Ukraine on the borders of the EU was issued to 14.6 million Ukrainians, in 2017, when the visa-free had acted for already half a year, it was issued to 15.25 million.

In the tourist sphere they also quickly noticed changes from the introduction of the visa-free regime between Ukraine and the EU.

As the chairman of the Ukrainian Association of Tour Operators Igor Golubakh said, the visa-free simplified the possibility of selling tours.

“In the year after the beginning of the visa-free regime the stream of tourists to the European countries grew by 7-8%,” he said.

Previously, because of the need to register for a visa, sales were closed approximately 10 days before the trip. And now they sell them up to the last day. The fact that there is no need to pay for a visa matters.

According to tour operators, next year the growth will be even greater.

“Many different charter programs are planned for Italy, Spain, or the Canary Islands. I think that it will add a 15-20% growth to the tourist stream to Europe,” predicted Golubakh.

But not only tourists use the delights of the visa-free regime. Even the Ukrainian government recognised that the visa-free regime promotes labor migration from Ukraine.

Formally visa-free stay in EU countries doesn’t grant the right to official employment.

However, by studying the Polish labor market local authorities have found a way to legally employ Ukrainians.

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The visa-free regime grants the right to be in the Schengen area for 90 days during a 6-month period.

In order to get a short-term job in Poland legally, Ukrainians don’t need to receive a special working visa, and it is possible to come using the visa-free and work in the country for three months.

In practice this led to tens of thousands of Ukrainians who earlier didn’t think about trips to the west issuing themselves “visa-free” passports and switched to a “three months of work-three months of home” regime.

Also, some interlocutors of BBC Ukraine said that those traveling to other EU countries on a visa-free find work there, and then receive a constant working visa.

According to different estimates, there can be more than one million Ukrainians in Poland at any one time for the purpose of temporarily earning money.

Will visa-free travel be taken away from Ukraine

Since the very moment that the visa-free regime between Ukraine and the EU came into force the possibility of it being cancelled existed – a special mechanism of stay was adopted.

This became a kind of safety net for Europeans in the event that some countries roughly violate the agreement on visa liberalisation.

The special law of the EU granted the European Commission the right to restore a visa regime under extraordinary conditions.

This can happen because of an essential growth in the number of citizens of the country who are refused entrance to the EU or remain one its territory illegally.

The basis of this will be a sharp increase in the number of unreasonable applications for granting shelter in EU countries or problems with returning illegal migrants home.

Both certain member States and the European Commission can initiate the procedure of suspension.

The European Commission also monitors the situation in the countries that received a visa-free regime and makes annual reports.

The first report on monitoring in the EU was in December, 2017. There it was noted that in general Ukraine fulfills its obligations and there were no grounds for suspending visa-free travel.

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However, some points that can cause problems in the future were also noted. This is mainly the requirements concerning combatting corruption and creating an independent anti-corruption court in Ukraine.

However so far, as the interlocutors of BBC Ukraine say, it is too early to speak about a serious threat to the visa-free regime being present.

Paying for visa-free travel

Even before the visa-free regime began in Ukraine there were rumours about it being necessary to pay almost more than the cost of a visa for visa-free travel to the EU.

These rumours were connected to an initiative of the European Union to strengthen security for the entry of visa-free travelers to the EU.

The system was called “European travel information and authorisation system”.

This project hasn’t yet been approved definitively, but it is already at the final stage. The new rules should come into force from 2021.

At first the system will come into force for entrance to the EU by plane and ship, and then later – trains or motor transport.

Soon the citizens of more than 60 countries of the world that have the right to visa-free travel will have to undergo information authorisation – filling out an electronic questionnaire with general data about themselves.

Authorisation will cost €7 and will be valid for three years or until the period of validity of the authorised passport expires.

Authorisation will take place quickly for the vast majority of applicants – no more than 4 days, and with a “positive result”.

If problems arise, you will be forced to provide additional data. Children under 12 years of age will be authorised for free.

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