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Time for Canada to Introduce Visa-Free Travel for Ukrainians

Nick Krawetz for Ukrainian Winnipeg

In 1891, a cen­tury before Canada was among the first coun­tries to rec­og­nize Ukraine’s inde­pen­dence, Ukrain­ian immi­grants began arriv­ing in Canada. Despite fac­ing ini­tial hard­ships, Ukraini­ans in Canada endured and pros­pered through will and deter­mi­na­tion. Most notably, 125 years of sub­se­quent waves of immi­gra­tion has resulted in immea­sur­able con­tri­bu­tions of Ukrainian-Canadians in the devel­op­ment of Canada, while Ukrain­ian cul­ture has been woven into the fab­ric of Cana­dian society.

As Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko stated in his address to the Cana­dian par­lia­ment in Sep­tem­ber 2014, “Mr. Prime Min­is­ter, I remem­ber you men­tioned that Canada is prob­a­bly the most Ukrain­ian nation out­side of Ukraine itself. You know what? This is absolutely true. Let me rec­i­p­ro­cate. There are great Euro­pean nations that stood as the source of the foun­da­tion of mod­ern Canada. Canada has friends all over the globe, and the clos­est one is next to it. How­ever, I doubt that you will find another nation that would say so sin­cerely what I say to you: Ukraine is prob­a­bly the most Cana­dian nation after Canada itself.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces the upcoming visit of Petro Poroshenko

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces the upcoming visit of Petro Poroshenko, President of Ukraine, during the United for Ukraine Gala (Photo from

While address­ing par­lia­men­tar­i­ans and Cana­di­ans alike, Poroshenko also noted Ukrain­ian free­dom, democ­racy, and its Euro­pean future are pos­si­ble and reach­able. That is why mil­lions of Ukraini­ans have demanded reform, defended democ­racy, defended free­dom, and are seek­ing a mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive in the Euro­pean Union (EU).

And that is why his­tory is not the only thing that binds Ukraine and Canada. The Rev­o­lu­tion of Dig­nity, annex­a­tion of Crimea, and Russian-fueled war in the Don­bas all speak to the yearn­ing of Ukrain­ian cit­i­zens to live in a coun­try guided by demo­c­ra­tic norms, the rule of law, and market-based eco­nomic prin­ci­ples – the same norms and prin­ci­ples that Canada lives by and strives to advance around the world.

In light of the recent sign­ing of the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agree­ment (CUFTA), the Canada-Ukraine bilat­eral rela­tion­ship is poten­tially now set to gen­er­ate sig­nif­i­cant com­mer­cial ben­e­fits for both Cana­dian and Ukrain­ian busi­nesses. CUFTA also aims to sup­port the Gov­ern­ment of Ukraine’s eco­nomic reform and devel­op­ment efforts, strengthen the Canada-Ukraine part­ner­ship for peace and pros­per­ity, and help pave the way for long-term secu­rity, sta­bil­ity, and broad-based eco­nomic devel­op­ment in Ukraine.

In order to facil­i­tate eco­nomic growth and CUFTA’s poten­tial, Canada should abol­ish tem­po­rary res­i­dent visa require­ments for Ukrain­ian cit­i­zens. Back in 2005, Ukraine took this uni­lat­eral step for Cana­di­ans when Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yushchenko signed Decree No. 1134/2005 “On the Intro­duc­tion of a Visa-Free Regime for Cana­dian Cit­i­zens,” which allows Cana­di­ans to enter Ukraine or tran­sit through its ter­ri­tory with­out a visa for a period of up to 90 days. Visas are still required for Cana­di­ans who enter Ukraine for the pur­pose of employ­ment, per­ma­nent res­i­dency, study, work or for any other pur­pose if they are going to stay in Ukraine for more than 90 days.

In 2005, Ukraine also abol­ished visas for nation­als of the EU as a good­will ges­ture and a sign of open­ness and desire for EU inte­gra­tion. More­over, last year Ukraine ini­tialed its Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment with the EU, which includes a Deep and Com­pre­hen­sive Free Trade Agree­ment that is expected to be fully imple­mented start­ing on Jan­u­ary 1, 2016.

The Euro­peans have acknowl­edged the value of a visa-free regime as it granted Ukraine an Action Plan on Visa Lib­er­al­iza­tion at the Ukraine-EU Sum­mit in Novem­ber 2010. This Action Plan tran­si­tioned abstract pre­lim­i­nary dis­cus­sions to sub­stan­tive work with clear prospects of intro­duc­ing a visa-free regime for Ukrain­ian cit­i­zens for short-term travel to the EU.

The Action Plan is cur­rently being imple­mented using a phased-approach and it is com­prised of var­i­ous components:

1) doc­u­ment secu­rity, includ­ing biometrics;

2) ille­gal immi­gra­tion, includ­ing readmission;

3) pub­lic order and secu­rity; and

4) exter­nal rela­tions and fun­da­men­tal rights.

In Decem­ber 2015, the EU is expected to pub­lish a report on Ukraine’s progress in the imple­men­ta­tion of the Visa Lib­er­al­iza­tion Action Plan. Many EU lead­ers, includ­ing Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker, pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil Don­ald Tusk, Euro­pean Par­lia­ment pres­i­dent Mar­tin Schulz, and EU Com­mis­sioner for Euro­pean Neigh­bour­hood and Enlarge­ment Johannes Hahn, have expressed sup­port for grant­ing a visa-free regime to Ukraine in 2016 if Ukraine achieves the bench­marks laid out in the Action Plan.

Ukraine is cur­rently work­ing on meet­ing the EU’s rec­om­men­da­tions, but more work still needs to be done. How­ever, Ukraine recently intro­duced bio­met­ric pass­ports, which include advanced secu­rity fea­tures that meet (and in some cases even exceed) Euro­pean and inter­na­tional stan­dards in terms of secu­rity and biometrics.

Cana­di­ans and their elected offi­cials have repeat­edly encour­aged greater ties with Ukraine, and the Gov­ern­ment of Canada has acted. It is essen­tial that our com­mu­nity renew its efforts to raise aware­ness of this issue and approach our elected offi­cials to make visa-free travel (up to 90 days) for Ukraini­ans a priority.

Undoubt­edly, cur­rent Cana­dian tem­po­rary res­i­dent visa require­ments ham­per Ukrain­ian busi­nesses from invest­ing in Canada. These restric­tions also obstruct knowl­edge trans­fer and pro­fes­sional exchanges, which ulti­mately under­mines the goals of CUFTA. If Canada rec­i­p­ro­cates by abol­ish­ing these restric­tions, Canada should also open addi­tional con­sular offices in other Ukrain­ian cities (e.g., Kharkiv, Dnipropetro­vsk, Odesa) and boost Cana­dian Embassy staff in order to deal with the demands and real­i­ties of Ukrain­ian travelers.

If the EU is will­ing to grant visa-free travel to Ukraini­ans, then so should Canada. Visa-free busi­ness and tourism travel is cen­tral to stim­u­lat­ing eco­nomic growth and job cre­ation on both sides of the Atlantic. 125 years of Ukrain­ian immi­gra­tion to Canada is tes­ta­ment to what Canada and Ukraine can achieve together in the years ahead.

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