While Ukrainians are hoping to obtain visa-free travel to the European Union by the end of the year, what about the other side of the coin?
Currently, foreigners from 60 nations – 28 European Union nations and 32 non-EU nations – can travel to Ukraine without a visa.
Who needs visas?
Citizens of Australia, New Zeeland, Singapore, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and many other developed countries still need a visa to travel to Ukraine. A visa to Ukraine officially costs between $85 and $170, depending on the visa type and whether express processing is required, but it can cost up to $5,000 if it is obtained unofficially, via a mediator or visa broker.
To attract more tourists to Ukraine, writer Bogdan Logvynenko and other activists have launched a campaign #NoVisaToUkraine, and are in talks with the Foreign Ministry, State Migration Service and other state bodies concerned.
But currently, there are no proposals coming from within government to relax the requirements for entering Ukraine.
Logvynenko said there is no reason to require visas from nations with a higher gross domestic product than Ukraine, as citizens from richer countries are not likely to migrate to the country. But while cost is not so much an issue, bureaucracy and delays can be huge headaches for those who need a visa to visit Ukraine.
Logvynenko got involved in the issue after a friend, an Indonesian movie director, told him she needed to visit the Embassy of Ukraine in Jakarta six times to obtain a visa. “Most tourists who travel to Ukraine on visas get their first impressions about the country from its embassy,” he says. Since Logvynenko started the #NoVisaToUkraine campaign, about 100 travelers have sent him reports of their bad experiences with the process.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told the Kyiv Post at a press conference on April 18, which was held jointly by the American Chamber of Commerce and the European Business Association, that he was aware of the difficulties some foreigners have applying for Ukrainian visas. He said there are plans to introduce new rules that would allow those who already have a multi-entry visa for the European Union and the United States to enter Ukraine as well.
The Middle East and China also among the priorities for the extension of Ukraine’s visa-free regime, Klimkin said. The goal of boosting business relations with these countries is motivating the Foreign Ministry to simplify the process of getting a Ukrainian visa. “A businessman who arrives in Ukraine shouldn’t have headaches about how to get a visa. All their attention should be focused on how to finally make an investment in Ukraine,” Klimkin said.
The ministry hopes to introduce a single package of documents for all visa applications, so there will be no need to make multiple visits to Ukrainian consulates in future to obtain a visa, Klimkin said. “(The package) will consist of only four documents, which matches the practice of the European Union,” he said.
Another rule Klimkin promised to introduce another EU standard – it should take no more than five days to issue a visa. In future, it will also be possible to obtain a visa on arrival at an airport, Klimkin said.
While Malaysians don’t need visas to travel to the EU, they still need them for Ukraine. At the same time, Malaysians have allowed Ukrainians to visit their country without a visa since the early 2000s.
But the experiences of one Malaysian citizen, who reported them on the travel website TripAdvisor, show getting a visa to visit Ukraine can be a tortuous task. The Malaysian, named on the website as Ban Hoo C, spent three months in 2013 trying to get a visa to Ukraine, making seven visits to a Ukrainian consular office in the process. He prepared documents in advance as there was no Ukrainian embassy in Yangon, Myanmar, where he was based. Electronic applications, which could have simplified the whole process, aren’t yet available.
The Ukrainian consular visa officer “was so rude, arrogant and always intimidating me,” Ban Hoo wrote of his experience. First, his visa application stalled because he needed a hotel booking. Then, after Ban Hoo had already paid $190, the embassy changed the payment method and he had to waste more time trying to get a refund.
“Anyway, final I got my visa and enjoyed visiting Ukraine,” he wrote. “I’d love to go back but will not go through the same application process. If Ukraine does away with visas, I will be the first one go to again.”
Activists are trying to smooth the visa application procedure in Ukraine’s embassies by requiring them to post and distribute a clear list of the documents that are needed. Embassies themselves should provide properly equipped waiting areas, and post visa information in the official language of the applicant’s home country, so that foreigners aren’t forced to visit embassies many times to clear up misunderstandings, activists say.
Ukrainian diplomatic missions abroad are often poorly equipped, activists say. Logvynenko gives the example of the Ukrainian Consulate in Tehran, “which looks like a hut,” and which applicants are required to visit several times, with each visit lasting several hours.
The lack of electronic applications and a visa database is another problem. The Ukrainian government still issues a paper visa that is pasted into visitors’ passports, Logvynenko says. The border guard checks the authenticity of the document manually, as there is no electronic register of visas that have been issued. If a guard suspects the visa might be fake, the consul has to be called to confirm it, and a visitor can be detained until this is done, Logvynenko says.
Outsourcing the granting of long-term visas could simplify the application procedure, Logvynenko says. The outsourcing company would collect the documents and send them to the Security Service of Ukraine for processing. “Foreigners are ready to pay for the submission, but it shouldn’t have to take a month of your life,” Logvynenko says.
For example, the Schengen states of the European Union have outsourced this function to VFS Global, a visa application processing company that now operates in 122 countries worldwide.
For Ukrainians, VFS Global’s service costs approximately 20 euros per application, not including the visa application fee. Logvynenko said VFS Global confirmed to him that they were able to collect documents for long-term visa in places where Ukraine has no consular representation, and would even conduct conference calls with applicants as part of the process.