Serhii Pohoreltsev, a Ukrainian diplomat, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Ukraine, Director of the Consular Service Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, exclusively for “Fashion of Diplomacy” speaks about the state of work on introduction of a visa-free regime, opportunities for trade and economic relations development, achievements and prospects of the consular service of Ukraine.
In November 2017, during the visit of the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, to the United Arab Emirates, an agreement was reached with the Prime Minister of the UAE, the leader of the Emirate of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, on visa-free regime between the two states. As a result of negotiations, a Memorandum was signed between the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and the Government of the UAE on the abolition of visa requirements. “The Ukrainians will be able to travel freely to the other extremely important and attractive country for us. And the value of the Ukrainian passport continues to increase,” pointed out Petro Poroshenko.
What does the UAE visa-free regime mean for the Ukrainians and Ukraine?
— During the meeting between Petro Poroshenko and the King of Saudi Arabia, in early November this year, the agreements were reached to reduce the amount of visa fees and movement to facilitate people-to-people contacts. Achieving agreements on visa-free travel of the Ukrainian citizens to the UAE and facilitation of visa procedures with Saudi Arabia is an expansion of opportunities for establishing people-to-people contacts, establishing business contacts, facilitating conditions for learning the culture of peoples and, finally, spiritual enrichment.
The signing of the memorandum with the UAE is a very important step, which makes it possible for the citizens of Ukraine — the biometric passport holders — to travel freely. It is important because there is a demand: during 2016, 200 000 Ukrainian citizens visited the UAE, so it is expected that this number will increase, and the visafree regime will enable many tourists to visit this country without unnecessary complications.
How long did the negotiations last? Whose party initiated them?
— The work started as early as in the beginning of this year, consular negotiations were held in Abu Dhabi, during which Ukraine’s readiness to promote the idea of introducing visa-free regime of travelling for the citizens of both countries was announced for the first time ever. At that time, the UAE side did not express readiness to introduce a visa-free regime, however, a joint, teambased hard work yielded its results: during the visit of the President of Ukraine in early November this year to the UAE, it was agreed to start a visa-free regime and an appropriate memorandum was signed. This document provides that a visa-free regime for biometric passport holders will begin 30 days after the parties exchange the latest note on the completion of all internal procedures. We did our best to make this regime work by the end of the year. Naming a specific date is difficult — it depends not only on the Ukrainian party. However, since the decision has been made, the memorandum has been signed, there will be no delays on either the part of Ukraine or the UAE.
In the overall aspect, obtaining another country in the list of visa-free countries is very good, as it corresponds to the President’s course — “100 Visa-Free Countries for the Ukrainians” — and we are moving forward in this direction.
How will it affect trade relations between the countries?
— World practice proves that it is a big plus for the economy, as businessmen will have the opportunity to visit the partner country without unnecessary complications. After all, business is a very dynamic thing, and today the businessman is ready to go, but tomorrow — no, he does not have time for procurement of visa. Of course, this will facilitate business trips, which, in turn, will contribute to the development of trade and economic relations between our countries.
Are there any preconditions for deepening our economic relations with the UAE, let’s say, like with Canada, with which an agreement on free-trade zone has been signed?
— The Department of Consular Service is monitoring the annual increase in the number of visa processing for businessmen, that is, the dynamics is positive, there is demand and interest in investing in the Ukrainian economy by the UAE. This was felt during the negotiations in January this year, when the Emirate party demonstrated its interest in developing trade and economic ties. The quantity is turning into quality, and these indicators will surely lead to the fact that more business people will go, enter into contracts, invest in our country, and our companies will be able to expand the market for their products in the UAE. A visa-free regime will undoubtedly contribute to the development of trade and economic ties.
Ukraine greatly expands the geography of countries with visa-free regime. What is it connected with?
— Following the statement formulated by the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, “100 Visa-Free Countries for the Ukrainians”, during 2016–2017, the agreements were reached in the field of visa liberalization with a number of European, North and South American countries, the Persian Gulf and Asia, in particular:
- Intergovernmental agreement on the facilitation of the visa processing with Switzerland has been completed;
- Bilateral agreements on visa-free travel of citizens from Saint Kitts and Nevis and Albania have been completed;
- Visa-free regime for the citizens of Ukraine and Costa Rica and Mauritius has been introduced;
- Mutual trips of citizens of Ukraine and Turkey with internal passports (ID-cards) were introduced;
- According to the results of the work carried out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, by the decisions of the US Department of State, the deadline period of validity for certain types of nonimmigrant visas for Ukrainian citizens was increased from 5 to 10 years.
With the aim of developing an agreement reached concerning the visa-free regime of travelling for the holders of diplomatic passports to Japan (introduced as of June 01, 2016) and further liberalization of the visa regime, Japan is considering the possibility of canceling visa requirements for holders of Ukrainian service passports. At the same time, as of January 01, 2018, Japan is introducing a number of visa simplifications for Ukrainian citizens who use the usual foreign passports (extension of categories of applicants for obtaining multiple-entry visas for business, cultural and scientific purposes, extending the validity of visas from 3 to 5 years, reducing the list of necessary documents, etc.).
In addition, the possibility of concluding agreements on the mutual abolition of visa requirements is considered by the Governments of Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Uruguay. As part of the negotiation process with Australia and the UK, the Foreign Ministry has introduced a number of proposals for contracting parties to introduce a simplified travel regime for citizens. At the same time, given the planned implementation of the reform of the immigration system in Australia during 2017 and the necessity of the development and legal implementation of the procedure of the UK’s secession from the EU, the Australian and British parties informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the unpreparedness to substantially study visa facilitation issues at this stage. The partners are expected to respond to the requests by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the prospects for introducing a visafree travel regime for Ukrainian citizens to the French overseas territories (French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, French austral and Antarctic lands) and overseas departments (Reunion Island, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Barthelemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, Mayotte, French Guiana), as well as the Netherlands’s overseas territories of Aruba, Curacao and Sint-Marten.
How many countries can our citizens travel to without a visa? With how many of them are the negotiations ongoing?
— As of November this year, Ukrainian citizens can visit 84 countries without visas. The negotiations are underway on the abolition of the visa regime or the simplification of visa requirements with 23 countries more. I am convinced that we will gradually increase the number of visa-free countries for the Ukrainians, and it will take a little time to get the figure — 100 visafree countries for the Ukrainians.
Is there a deadline for reaching this hundred?
— A clear deadline was not defined, since this process is rather difficult, with some countries it can be stretched over time. Everything was happening slowly with the UAE, the visit of Petro Poroshenko and his resolute attitude to a visa-free regime became the driving force. In this regard, the President of Ukraine is the “locomotive” of the visa-free regime philosophy, and he personally made significant eff orts to implement such a global project as “visa-free regime with the EU”, which is difficult to overestimate in terms of political and practical profit.
Which current situation do we have with a visafree regime with the European Union? How many Ukrainians have already used the service?
— The final stage of the negotiation process between Ukraine and the European Union, as well as preparatory measures for the introduction of visa-free travel of Ukrainians to Europe took place in 2016 and 2017. The systemic actions of the foreign policy department of our state to fulfill the “visafree” tasks as a prerequisite for the abolition of visa requirements for the Ukrainians for travelling to the EU became the key to bringing the ambitious plans of our country’s leadership into a practical plane. The titanic eff orts of the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, Foreign Minister of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin and the team of like-minded people, as well as the systematic work of ministries and departments, were successful. On May 17, 2017, a legislative act on the abolition of visas for the Ukrainians was solemnly signed in Strasbourg.
Visa-free travel of the Ukrainians to the European Union has become a reality since June 11, 2017. Citizens of Ukraine were able to visit all EU countries without a visa, with the exception of the United Kingdom and Ireland, which are the members of the European Union, but which are not part of the Schengen zone. At the same time, the Ukrainians can travel freely to countries that are not the EU members but are members of the Schengen zone – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
Currently, about 350 thousand citizens have already used this regime, the statistics are very positive; there are very few registered failures (approximately 60 cases) for absolutely objective reasons.
What is the role of visa-free regime with the EU for our country based on?
— Visa-free regime has eliminated barriers to free movement of the Ukrainians in European countries, mediation in the provision of services and excessive time spent waiting for a visa. Visafree regime has become a free movement of free people forward, and one of the applied measures of European integration of Ukraine. The year 2017 will enter the newest history of Ukraine as a year of a visa-free regime for the Ukrainians, thanks to the introduction of a visa-free regime for the Ukrainian citizens by the European Union. This is confirmation of the civilization choice of Ukraine as part of the European space.
What challenges and ambitious plans is the department facing in 2018?
— The protection of the rights and interests of our citizens abroad: individuals and legal entities is an important component of the consular service department activities, the quintessence of our work. There are a lot of cases when our compatriots were in a difficult position, and the consuls have had to make significant eff orts to free our political prisoners, sailors, citizens who, due to various circumstances, were in prisons or other places of detention. Such cases are the subject of discussion during consular negotiations, consultations; we are constantly analyzing this situation. There is no episode of the detention of a Ukrainian who would have been left out of attention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. The President of Ukraine, the Foreign Minister personally control the release of prisoners from Russian captivity.
One of the priority areas of work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the maintenance of a comprehensive dialogue with the states of the so-called “white” list of countries participating in the Schengen agreement. As of November 2017, the list includes 62 countries. The citizens of Ukraine have the right to visa-free entry to up to 39 of them: with the 20 states visa-free entry regime is introduced on a bilateral basis, 19 states introduced a visa-free travel regime for the Ukrainian citizens unilaterally.
Achieving agreements on visa-free travel of the citizens is a mutually beneficial two-way process. Ukraine is open to the world; it is interesting as a new market, a country of great opportunities. Demonstrating our openness and the desire for cooperation, we do a lot to improve and simplify the visa processing for entering Ukraine. Not so long ago, we introduced new visa rules that provide for simplification of visa documents processing for foreigners, unification of tariff s for consular fees, shortening of visa application processing time, the possibility of fi ling visa applications to authorized visa centres, etc.
In one of the interviews, you talked about the use of the latest information technologies to improve consular activities. What did you mean?
— Speaking about the improvement, I would even say, modernization of the consular service. It is necessary to outline the following main directions of this work.
Firstly, starting from mid-January 2018, visa centres will begin to operate in 8 countries of the world, which will substantially unload our consulates and allow us to accept foreign citizens more quickly.
Secondly, our plans include the introduction of an electronic visa for the citizens of 47 countries of the world, which will also improve and simplify the procedure for visa processing and reduce the burden on consular offices. As a result, a foreigner in online mode will be able to apply, make all necessary procedures and arrive in Ukraine with an electronic visa.
Thirdly, in 2018, the introduction of a visitor flow control system (the so-called “electronic queues”) will be introduced at the consular offices with the ability to fix an appointment via the Internet or mobile application. We are trying to use the experience of leading countries to eliminate mediators and misunderstandings in queues.
Fourthly, in order to raise awareness of the Ukrainian citizens, as well as to warn them about possible extraordinary events abroad, in the country where they plan to go, we have introduced an electronic system of voluntary registration of the Ukrainian citizens while travelling abroad — “FRIEND”. The software program “FRIEND” is developed with the use of the latest advances in the field of IT and focused on the modern consumer. The first release of the system is an interconnected web resource and mobile application for smartphones. This program is the debut of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the world of mobile applications. And in the end, this year we have started the process of creating a system of the so-called “Electronic Consul”, which will allow automating all consular processes and reduce them to “one denominator”. This applies to the issue of procurement visas, passports, legalization, notary, citizenship, etc. The development of the system will take place in several stages: creation of the electronic journal of registration of consular operations and electronic dossiers, connection to available information resources and, at the final stage, development of mobile application for the possibility of remote fi ling of documents by applicants and payment of consular services. We have been actively starting to work on implementation of the project this year, and the next one — the system will be in operation completely.
All this complex of actions to modernize the consular service will bring it to a qualitatively new level and bring it closer to the best world standards.
Congratulations on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Ukrainian diplomacy:
I am pleased to congratulate the staff of the magazine and your desire to communicate directly with the diplomatic service of our state. It is nice to see your understanding that the consular service is very important in terms of protecting the rights and interests of our citizens, and I hope our contacts will continue from now forth. I wish success, creative inspiration and peace to all of us.