There is no direct threat to visa-free regime with the EU

Executive Director of Europe without Barriers Iryna Sushko, Head of the State Migration Service Maxym Sokoliuk, First Deputy Head of the State Border Guard Service Vasyl Servatiuk, June 11, 2018, Kyiv

In the short-term, there are no direct threats to the functioning of the EU-Ukraine visa-free regime. Still some risk factors exist and should be prevented.

This is evidenced by the quantitative and qualitative data analyzed by the NGO “Europe without Barriers” in the study of the first year of visa liberalisation. The study was presented in Kyiv on June 11, 2018 during press briefing “Anniversary of the visa-free regime: statistics, trends, strategy”.

According to 2017 stats, Ukrainian citizens were refused in entry on the EU countries’ borders 34% more comparing to 2016. Also, the number of irregular migrants from Ukraine detected on the territory of the EU has increased by 12%. At the same time, the number of asylum seekers decreased by 18% in 2017. Ukraine continues to cooperate effectively with the EU in the sphere of ​​readmission. Ukrainian authorities do not take actions aimed at rolling back the reforms adopted on the way to visa liberalisation. Therefore, currently there are no grounds for launching the suspension mechanism.

At the same time, these indicators, together with the analysis of experience of other countries that were granted visa-free travel with the EU earlier (Moldova, Serbia), indicate potential risks in the future.

In particular, after mass issuance of biometric passports and expiration of previously issued Schengen MEVs number of visa-free travelers from Ukraine to the EU is supposed to sharply increase. Consequently, number of entry refusals may rise, especially if Ukrainian citizens are not well-informed about rules of travelling to the EU.

Another risk factor is irregular stay in the the EU (exceeding the permitted term of stay).

A permanent risk factor is the military conflict with Russia.

Considering reforms, it should be borne in mind that, although Ukraine has adopted all the necessary legislation, the level of implementation of such standards may be insufficient, especially at the regional level, and therefore the implementation of reforms requires special attention.

In this regard, “Europe without barriers” recommends Ukrainian authorities and the EU to actively continue informing Ukrainian citizens about the rules of using the visa-free regime, and to carry out independent monitoring of the implementation of the reforms adopted in the framework of Visa Liberalisation Action Plan.

The study based on data from Eurostat, Frontex, government agencies of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, own research of “Europe without barriers”

Download the presentation “Visa-Free Anniversary: ​​Statistics, Trends, Strategy” (PDF, Ukrainian)


Visa-free regime stats: Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia

According to the Border Guard Service of Moldova, as of April 2018 (4 years after start), the visa-free regime was used by 1.469 million people.

According to the Georgian authorities, 192,453 people (258,663 border crossings) used the visa-free regime during  one year after it entered into force.

According to the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, 555 thousand Ukrainians used the visa-free regime during the first year, but according to Oleg Slobodyan, a spokesman for the SBGS, this numbers includes only citizens with “clean” biometric passports (who did not travel with a visa).

Demand for Schengen visas

In 2017 Ukrainians gradually shifted from visa to visa-free short-term trips. For a little more than six months of visa-free travel in 2017, the number of applications for short-term Schengen visas has fallen by half. According to the European Commission data, in 2017 the consulates of the Schengen countries in Ukraine received  720 thousands applications, which is twice less than during 2016 (1 411 950).

Accordingly, in 2017 694,000 Schengen visas were issued in Ukraine, which is twice less than in 2016 (1.36 mln.). This displaced Ukraine from the 3rd to 6th place in the world by the number of applications for Schengen visas, and to 7th – by the number of issued visas.

Country Schengen visas issued 2016 Schengen visas issued 2017
Russia 3 134 413 3 826 151
Turkey 890 776 903 644
Belarus 693 395 710 504
Ukraine 1 363 347 694 349
Georgia 92 895 19 141
Serbia 6 468 6 192
Moldova 1 978 1 479

Entry refusals

Recently, several publications in Ukraine have disseminated with reference to “Europe without Barriers” information that the share of refusals of entry to the EU for Ukrainians was about 9% of the total number of travelers who used the benefits of a visa-free travel. This is manipulation, as the number of refusals refers to all people who cross the border, and accordingly, its share should be counted not from 500 thousand visa-free travelers, but from 17.5 million border crossings. In fact, the share of refusals is less than half a percent (0.2%) and is only 37 thousand people in numbers.

The main reasons for refusing entry to Ukrainians are related to non-compliance with the rules of entry into the Schengen countries

The most common reason was the lack of documents confirming the purpose of the trip (16 thousand people). The second place was the absence of a valid visa or residence permit (8,000 people). The third is the lack of sufficient financial support (4.3 thousand). More than two thousand Ukrainians have been denied due to previous violations or abuses – the prevention of the Schengen information system has been triggered by previous denials of entry, deportation, etc. Also, more than two thousand Ukrainians did not get comfortable with the rules of no-visa and tried to go to the Schengen zone, although they already expired a 90-day stay within a 180-day period.

Illegal stay

The first year of a visa-free regime turned out that most Ukrainians continue to adhere to migration laws and do not pose a threat of massive irregular migration to the EU. According to Frontex, in 2017 32.6 thousand Ukrainian unregistered migrants were detained, but most of them (24 thousand) returned home. Although in absolute numbers Ukraine is the leader by number of detected irregular migrants in the EU, the growth comparing to previous year is relatively insignificant and amounted to only 12%.

Asylum seekers

In 2017, Ukraine ranked 22nd by number of asylum seekers in the EU, while citizens of Russia, Turkey and Georgia were seeking asylum in the EU more often. The number of Ukrainian asylum seekers continues to decrease for the third consecutive year and in 2017 this figure was 10 thousand people, which is 2 times less than in 2015, and is the lowest level since 2014.

Most often Ukrainians applied for asylum in Italy, Spain, and Germany, followed by Poland and France with a significant margin. Compared to 2016, the number of asylum applications in Poland and Germany has almost halved.

Photo: Executive Director of Europe without Barriers Iryna Sushko, Head of the State Migration Service Maxym Sokoliuk, First Deputy Head of the State Border Guard Service Vasyl Servatiuk, June 11, 2018, Kyiv

Watch video of briefing (English)

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