Foreign Policy Research Institute

+38 (044) 287 52 58

Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

Schengen visa and visa-free regime: what threatens Ukraine?

The new coronavirus continues to spread around the world. In an attempts to combat the COVID-19 outbreak (or its threat), governments and municipalities resorted to restrictive measures, suspended education, and prohibited concerts, conferences, and other mass events. On March 11, 2020, Ukraine joined the "quarantine club".  Airlines and travel industry have already suffered great losses. But no less strike is going to impact ordinary citizens. Freedom of movement within the EU, regardless of borders, is one of the key achievements for EU citizens, and within the Schengen Area you cross the border without noticing it at all.

However, during times of crisis, the usual rules no longer apply. The coronavirus crisis is just such an example. Austria was the first to break the Schengen rules, which closed the border for those Italians or travelers from Italy who do not have a certificate of the absence of coronavirus in the body. The second was Slovenia, which completely closed the border with Italy for passenger traffic. At the same time, the largest EU states are critical about the restriction of movement in the Schengen Area. French President, Emmanuel Macron called the decision of Slovenia and Austria to close borders with Italy "bad" and added that he believes that combating the coronavirus in the affected regions is more effective. German Chancellor, Angela Merkel also criticized Austria and Slovenia and urged "not to be isolated".

But it seems that the process has become irreversible. The government of Malta decided to take tough steps: the state announced a complete ban on travel to and from the five Schengen states: Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France and Spain. Hungary halted the admission of Schengen on its border with Austria and Slovenia (as well as strengthened controls on the border with Croatia). However, the epidemic did not cancel the rule that you can stay in Schengen for no longer than 90 days in the last 180-day period!

Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, many governments are ready for tough steps. More than half of the world's states closed their borders to some passengers even before the WHO declared coronavirus to be pandemic. There is a complete ban on entering the Israel. President of the United States, Donald Trump declared a ban on entry for all foreigners who have visited the Schengen Area in the past 14 days. And India recently warned all airlines that it put a travel ban on travelers who previously visited Italy, as well as France, Germany, Spain, or citizens of these states. The visa-free regime through coronavirus is an exceptional phenomenon, but also not too rare event. Several states among those who had a visa-free regime with China cancelled it at the beginning of the epidemic, Vietnam cancelled visa-free regime for Italians, and so on.

In February, Ukraine restricted flights with China, now almost severed flights with Italy, canceled dozens of flights to other states. Ukraine also introduced temperature screening at its borders and banned crossing the demarcation line to its citizens who live in the occupied territory of Donbas and have "symptoms of coronavirus". A number of human rights organizations have appealed to the command of the Joint Forces Operation to cancel the discriminatory norm, which, in their opinion, violates the constitutional rights of citizens. There are no restrictions on foreigners yet. But given the increasing restrictions in our neighboring states, we can be almost sure that these protective measures are not the last.[1]  Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba in an interview with "European truth" said: «Visa-free regime will remain in Ukraine. If Schengen will be lost formally or in fact, I think it will be an irreparable strike at the EU. But we will actively work with our partners to ensure that the Schengen Visas received by Ukrainian citizens remain valid in any event. We do not remove relations with the EU from our priorities. Everything that was launched concerning the ACAA, Green deal, the revision of the Association Agreement – all these processes should move forward».[2]

Coronavirus dealt a crushing strike not only on people but also on the economy of the states. Therefore, the Ukrainian economy, which is weak in comparison with developed states, will have a particularly difficult time. The economic crisis and pandemic will hurt Ukrainian business. To soften the strike, the state should take care not only of restrictive measures within the framework of the imposed quarantine, but also of supporting businesses. The abolition of the visa-free regime will lead to a weakening of labor migration, which threatens a fall in the population's income and the flow of currency into the state. The economic crisis and pandemic should not become a reason for drawdown the transformation of the state and preserving backwardness.[3]

Thus, for now, when the situation with the pandemic only worsens, regular use of visa-free regime by Ukrainians in the near future is out of the question because the aims of all states are now aimed at combating the global pandemic. Therefore, the question is how much will Ukraine suffer? And will it be deprived of visa-free regime due to the epidemic? After all, it can only exist if reforms are properly implemented and corruption is effectively combated. Here, the decisive factor will depend on the next steps of our state.