Russia and EU move one step closer to visa-free travel

By Evgeniya Chaykovskaya

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the government to present suggestions about easing visa rules for tourists, including those visiting while on a cruise and yachts, by June 1.

In the meantime Moscow and Brussels have nearly clinched a deal that would cancel visas for new categories of people, expand the list of those eligible for five-year multiple entry visas and generally make the application process easier for those applying for a second time.

The two sides are close to finishing the talks about changing the 2006 agreement on visas for Russia and EU nationals, a source in Russian Foreign Ministry told Kommersant.
Easier rules for professional travel

The new rules will allow visa-free travel not only for owners of diplomatic passports, but for members of civil airline crews and commercial shipping.

Current agreements only allow a five-year multi-entry visa for those whose close relatives legally live in the EU, as well as members of Russian and regional governments, constitutional and high courts.

The new document also gives more opportunities to members of official delegations, entrepreneurs, scientific, cultural and sporting events participants, journalists and drivers working on international routes. If an applicant already has used multi-visa for one or two years and has no violations and belongs to one of the categories mentioned above he or she can receive the maximum length visa possible – a five-year multi-entry visa.
Longer visas for returning tourists

The visa application procedure for remaining applicants will be eased. Those who have already received a short-term visa and did not violate the rule of travel, when applying for the second time, can ask for a longer multi-entry visa.

Moreover, visa fees will be cancelled for underage applicants (now for children under six) and those travelling for medical treatment (now only for those in need of urgent treatment).

Russia and the EU have mostly agreed on all these points, and the document will be sent to Brussels in the next few weeks. The EU representatives will have to read it and agree to discuss the changes, a diplomat said. “We would like to sign it in the nearest future – in May, for example.”

The EU parliament confirmed that the amendments could come into effect this year.
Official passports hold up agreement

There is only one issue that is blocking the signing of the treaty – Moscow wants all visas cancelled for owners of official passports, issued to government employees for travelling abroad for business trips. There are 15,000 official passports in Russia.

“In Russia, as in most EU countries, it is much easier to get an official passport than a diplomatic passport. We have doubts that the rules of issuing such documents have been followed,” a European diplomat said.

Moscow insists that this is an issue of principle. “We are talking about officials from different ministries and departments, who participate in the dialogue with the EU,” the Foreign Ministry said. “Cancelling visas for this category – after cancelling visas for owners of diplomatic passports – would be an important step in easing the visa regime.”

Russian diplomats insist that Brussels is equally interested in this change – there are 20,000 holders of official passports, and some of them are working with Russia on visas.

However, if talks do not lead to a solution, Russia will look into bilateral agreements with separate countries on visa-free travel for official passport holders. “But it is the last resort. We would like to solve this issue on a pan-European level as part of the new agreement,” a diplomat said.
The Moscow News