What Has Ukraine Done to Get a Visa Waiver from EU?

May 11, 2017
On May 11 EU Council supported granting a visa-waiver to Ukrainian citizens, finalising Ukraine’s multi-year progress to visa liberalisation goal. It has been a challenging and interesting process showing how EU ʺconditionalityʺ can work when very practical issues such as freedom of travelling are at stake.

We tried to analyse what Ukraine did to get visa liberalisation, and how it influenced Ukraine's reform process.

Ukraine was one of the three Eastern Partnership countries which the EU has conducted so-called "Visa Liberalisation Dialogues" with EU. EU-Ukraine Visa Liberalisation Dialogue was launched in October 2008. Ukraine's Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP) was an important step on this course—it has been presented at EU-Ukraine summit in November 2010.

It took five years for Ukraine to finalise the implementation of the VLAP requirements. The final, sixth progress report of the European Commission was published on 18 December 2015. According to the document, the factual information and assessment are based on findings of the EU evaluation missions that took place in Ukraine from 31 August 2015 to 2 October 2015 in all four blocks of VLAP. These missions consisted of experts from the EU Member States, Commission officials, as well as representatives of the EU Delegation to Ukraine.

Each of the previous five reports appraised progress achieved by the Ukrainian authorities in the implementation of the VLAP and issued additional recommendations for problematic spheres. As a result, reforms in numerous spheres have been conducted.

Here is what has been done in course of these years within four blocks of VLAP:

Document security, including biometrics.

The use of fingerprints as a mandatory biometric feature for passports has been introduced. These new passes comply with the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Since 1 January 2015, 3 240 705 biometric passports have been issued to Ukrainian citizens, as Maksym Sokoliuk, the Head of The State Migration Service of Ukraine informed on 19 April. Another 2 million passes are expected to be issued until the end of 2017, Sokoliuk said. At the same time, training programmes and ethical codes on anticorruption targeting the officials who deal with all kinds of passports were introduced.

Moreover, the second line of control in Kyiv-Boryspil (KBP) airport has been installed for checks on Ukrainian citizens leaving the Ukrainian territory. Border guards now can access fingerprints stored in Ukrainian passports and so can check the holder's fingerprints against those stored on the chip.

Integrated border management, migration management, and asylum.

Ukraine's State Border Guard Service has been modernised in line with EU standards and practices. Ukrainian authorities have ensured access to Interpol databases at border crossing points and cooperation on border control and border surveillance with neighbouring countries as well.

The capacity of Ukraine's State Migration Service (SMS) to handle inland detection has been increased, as its staff was extended, including officers tasked with fighting irregular migration and with inland detection of migrants.

In asylum field, a few changes were made. For instance, the "refugee" subsystem of the foreigners database was installed at SMS sites. It helps case processors to cross-check an information on migrants. Moreover, one hundred publicly financed regional and local legal aid centres started work on 1 July 2015. They provide secondary legal aid to international protection applicants. At the same time, the opening of a new accommodation centre in Yahotyn, Kyiv region, with 353 additional places was postponed to 2017 due to media scandal. 112 Ukraine TV channel and strana.ua outlet scared Ukrainians with the fact that Syrian refugees will be living there (even though it was never set), so the centre was not opened due to the protests. More info on the scandal can be found here.

Public order and security.

This block has arguably been the hardest one to achieve, yet the most important one. The main part of this block is the prevention of corruption and fight against it. Within the framework of VLAP, National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), National Agency for Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) and Specialized Anticorruption Prosecution (SAP) have been created to tackle this issue. There are successes and failures in the functioning of anti-corruption institutions. The institutional system is almost in place (but still has to be complemented by anti-corruption courts), but its functioning is far from ideal. More about how these institutions work and problems they face, you can read in our recent article.

Ukrainian authorities have also strengthened measures preventing and fighting organised crime. However, key elements of the reform, such as clear jurisdiction and preventing functions overlapping in the fight against organised crime, still have space for further improvement.

After numerous delays e-declarations for Ukrainian officials were introduced. At the moment, more than 100 thousand electronic declarations were submitted by public servants. Unfortunately, the whole story was compromised by scandalous amendments to Law No. 6172 "On Prevention of Corruption." According to these amendments, members of anticorruption NGOs were put onto the list of persons subject to declaring their assets via e-declarations. Moreover, despite the submission of declarations, the process of their analysis and scrutiny has not yet been started, which led some observers and politicians to demand the resignation of the leadership of National Agency for Preventing Corruption.

A new State Program to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings entered into force on 1 January 2016, but government's work on better monitoring of human trafficking is in progress. The number of victims identified continues to be low. There are also problems on the prosecution stage. According to the IOM data for 2016, 1151 persons who suffered from human trafficking were registered. Meanwhile, only 115 crimes were registered and 28 verdicts were delivered. Only 110 persons were granted the status of victim of trafficking (VOT).

Several points of VLAP regarding effective witness protection have not been implemented yet. As stated by EUAM, "there is no established witness-protection programme in place, but officers from the National Police and Security Service do provide close-protection support."

External relations and fundamental rights.

Within VLAP framework, Ukraine did quite a lot to deal with discrimination issues. On 25 August 2015, Ukraine's President adopted the national human rights strategy, which includes sections on anti-discrimination. Ukrainian Government also Parliament also adopted amendments to the Labour Code which explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, these topics continue to be very sensitive in Ukrainian society. Traditionalist and right-wing groups continue to violently challenge the non-discrimination discourse, in particular with regard to LGBTI.

An inclusive approach towards Ukrainian citizens living in non-government controlled territories (de facto occupied by Russian and pro-Russian separatist forces) on Donbass, as well as on annexed Crimea, was taken into consideration by Ukraine's government. The government has gradually improved the application of the legal framework for access to and from the non-government controlled territories and have introduced measures simplifying the crossing of the contact line in Donbas. More to follow, according to Cabinet of Ministers' Action Plan for the certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

As a result, Ukraine fulfilled all the benchmarks of VLAP, even though not all the changes were finalised, and not all of the solutions are perfect.

Anyway, EU-Ukraine visa liberalisation dialogue turned out to be an important and particularly effective tool for advancing far-reaching and difficult reforms in numerous areas. The most important thing is that Ukraine now has to stick to these changes, as document on visa suspension mechanism specifically mentions that "specific requirements which were used to assess the appropriateness of a visa exemption, granted as a result of a successful conclusion of a visa liberalisation dialogue, continue to be fulfilled over time."

Vitalii Rybak
Internews Ukraine, for UkraineWorld group