On Thursday, 6th of April 2017 the European Parliament approved the Ukraine visa waiver, allowing citizens of Ukraine, who fulfill certain standard criteria noted in the Schengen Border Code, to enter the Schengen countries for a short term visit of maximum 90 days for every 180 days period. The liberalisation is on track to enter into force already in june after a couple of formal steps have been accomplished. The exact details surrounding the legislation, although clearly written down, have been a topic of debate in Ukraine. Leading news channels and newspapers have presented at times incorrect information, which was previously circulated on social media.
A common misconception is referring to the Schengen Border Code guideline of necessity of proof for sufficient financial resources. The myth states, that citizens would need to take a printout from their bank account to the border, while in reality a simple credit card is enough. This misconception is so persuasive that even Ukraine’s “First Channel” (Перший) fell for it. In general only 25% of Ukrainians know about the free visa procedures the European Pravda (Европейска Правда) reports referring to a recent study. This lack of information is contributing to a feeling of senselessness in parts of the population.
The same above mentioned newspaper also informs about the truth regarding the visa waiver in an attempt to induce an optimistic view on the future. And in reality there are plenty of reasons, as the visa waiver is not coming alone. Low fair airlines (WizzAir and Ryanair) have announced to open new and more frequent routes to Ukraine, bringing down the price of travel to such cities like Lviv and Kyiv by up to 70% to sometimes below 30 Euros per flight. This combined with the relative strength of the Euro make vacation in Ukraine even more attractive for European citizens, thereby supporting the tourism sector. While many Ukrainians won’t be able to afford short visits to western european countries, as the average salary is just about 200 Euros, a smaller well situated minority might very well reap those benefits. However, the true winners on the Ukrainian side are young adults, who can abstain from expensive hotels and rely on significantly less expensive hostels, couchsurfing or simply friends and relatives. Without spending for accommodation the transport becomes the highest expense and constitutes a big hurdle for youngsters. With this one falling drastically and the need for a visa disappearing all together, the Schengen Area is truly opening its doors for the Ukrainian youth.
Official reactions in Ukraine have been positive and at times euphorical. President Poroshenko went as far as to congratulate the Ukrainian people during a conference causing applause. In Germany the ratification of the liberalisation has been barely reported by most media sources. The Russian TV channel Russia 24 reported shortly about the ratification, notably citing the lack of work permit for Ukrainians, something unrelated to the legislation.
Reaction of AEGEE-Kyiv
As a representative of AEGEE-Kyiv and citizen of Ukraine, I can state, that the visa liberalisation is an important step for us frequently travelling young people. Nevertheless, there have been discussions among our members, several of whom claimed that we still would need to take all the documents previously required for a visa to the border. In reality this is not completely like that, as was clearly presented in Ukrainian media. Visa liberalisation does not mean the omission of all rules. Ukraine is not an EU member state, so we still need to have an invitation, if we wish to go to European events, such as AEGEE events. In any case all required documents are listed in the ratified EU law and the Schengen Borders Code. AEGEE-Kyiv is celebrating this development as a milestone towards our goal of a borderless Europe.
Just before ratifying the visa waiver for Ukraine, the European Parliament has strengthened the visa waiver suspension mechanism, allowing for the omission of the visa waiver, if a member state registers a substantial increase of citizens from third countries, whose entry into the Schengen Area has been denied, as well as of applications for asylum by citizens of third countries, as compared to the same time period in the previous year. This mechanism would then allow to suspend the visa waiver for 9 months and potentially reverse the liberalisation after further discussion. This mechanism was a necessity for the subsequent visa liberalisation, but could bring Ukraine in trouble, as the country currently hosts well over a million IDPs and is engaged in military action.
By Filipp Trigub, 10.04.2017