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First year of EU-Ukraine visa-free travel: Not everything in the garden is rosy

Author : Mykhailo Pozhyvanov

There is a great inconsistency between the number of those who have obtained a biometric passport and the number of citizens who have traveled abroad with a new passport
09:31, 14 June 2018

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By an anniversary of EU’s visa-free regime for Ukraine, Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service has published many different figures. I was really impressed by one of them. It illustrates the inconsistency between the number of those who have obtained a biometric passport and the number of citizens who have traveled abroad with a new passport. According to the border guards, 517 thousand voyages were carried out by passengers with a biometric passport (Poroshenko gave another figure - 555 thousand trips abroad). For the first year of visa-free travel, 5 million passports have been issued, that is, the number of their owners is ten times higher than the number of the travelers (if such the data are correct, although there are no reason not to trust them).

The State Migration Service recalls: the agiotage around the biometric passports was so frenetic that there were days when the number of submitted sets of documents reached 28 thousand. We remember those crazy queues, complaints that the relevant institutions cannot print documents on time; three-month (instead of three-week) waiting for the desired IDs... And after all, you receive your passport and… do not, actually, use it.

Related: Year one of Ukraine-EU visa-free regime

I do not know why a significant part of the new passports’ owners does not use their opportunities. But this is how it is. Tour operators have noted a certain surge of activity, but it is rather insignificant - around 7%. The number of labor migrants, by the way, has not significantly increased, and this is probably a good sign. But what is the motivation of those Ukrainians, who have applied for the “reserved” biometric passports? Perhaps, this is the desire to protect themselves, so they have received those biometric IDs just in case.

However, this is something connected with the psychology of a person. I would not want to upset the owners of the hard-won passports, but the scenario with the suspension of the visa-free regime is not completely ruled out. That is, they should hurry and go somewhere abroad while the window of opportunity is still open.

Related: EU to not reconsider visa free regime with Ukraine, - State Border Guard

It is good that the law on the Anti-Corruption Court has been passed. Thus, the main threat, because of which the visa-free regime could be canceled, has been eliminated, however, other dangerous nuances still remain relevant. In particular, the EU still expects that we would abolish the electronic income declaration for representatives of civil society that are fighting corruption. This issue has not been resolved so far.

And, actually, this is not the main thing. The most important case is still under investigation, carried out by a former deputy chairman of the Migration Service Dina Pimakhova. Actually, May 25 she was informed about suspicion of taking bribes. Let me remind you, Pimakhova (according to the investigation) has established a business scheme for the implementation of foreigners’ residence permits, as well as to facilitate the acquisition of Ukrainian citizenship and speed up the issuance of biometric passports.

In December 2017, the French ambassador to Ukraine Isabelle Dumont pointed to this case as a factor that could lead to suspension of the visa-free regime. "We are particularly attentive to the development of this situation, and if our suspicions are confirmed, this will be very important from the point of view of the visa-free regime," Dumont warned. Half a year has passed, but the ambassador was never heard by the Ukrainian authorities.

Related: US cancels visa of Head of Ukraine's Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office

Of course, it is easier to issue triumphal reports on "the first anniversary of the visa-free regime, silencing the voices of the pessimists," this is exactly what President Poroshenko does. However, not only Isabelle Dumont is on the list of the “pessimists,” but also one more diplomat, the British ambassador to Ukraine Judith Gough, who also insisted on investigating the facts of the illegal passports issuance. Gough said this in the context of an attempt on Amina Okuyeva and Adam Osmayev when "illegal" passports of the criminals were found. “We expect a proper investigation of this fact to make sure that the process of issuing visas in Ukraine is protected and safe,” Gough said.

The words spoken by Dumont and Gough are very disturbing. And given that they are not taken into account, the anxiety increases at times. Of course, the officials prefer not to notice things like that. The current leadership of the Migration Service unanimously asserts that no one is planning to revise the conditions for granting Ukraine a visa-free regime today. Deputy head of the service Vasyl Servatyuk believes that foreigners are convinced that the Ukrainians bring no any danger. Foreigners (two of whom are the ambassadors) just point out the opposite: the threat is not so much from the Ukrainians, but from those who do not know how they managed to obtain a Ukrainian passport.

Related: Half a million Ukrainians use visa-free regime, - Poroshenko

However, everyone might close his eyes on it, fail to investigate resonant cases, where the corruption component is closely interwoven with the contract killings. But it should be remembered that sometimes the probability of suspension of a visa-free regime arises as a result of seemingly completely unexpected circumstances. Georgia, which has got visa-free regime almost simultaneously with Ukraine, has faced a similar problem now. More and more citizens of this country began to file unreasonable requests for asylum in Germany, Der Spiegel reported this April. The number of requests for asylum by the Georgians has also increased in France, Sweden, and Italy.

And then the European Union can get to the point of discussing whether it is necessary to apply for the first time to Georgia a new mechanism for suspending the visa-free regime. It can be activated in case of a significant increase in the number of unreasonable applications for asylum or, for example if there are problems with security, Der Spiegel warns. For Ukraine, a massive outflow of potential asylum-seekers abroad is not common yet, but in this case, it is not so much about migration but rather about security.

Related: Ukraine, Peru agree to implement visa-free regime

Ignoring warnings of this kind does not augur well for us. So, now we have a visa-free regime, and this is really fine, nevertheless, it is important to retain it. Because the second or the third anniversary might not even come. And this is not desirable.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or 112.International and its owners.

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