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08 January 2020, 17:34

Belarus, EU sign visa facilitation agreement, readmission agreement

MINSK, 8 January (BelTA) – The Republic of Belarus and the European Union have signed agreements on facilitating visa procedures and on readmitting the individuals staying without an authorization, BelTA has learned.

The ceremony took place in Brussels, Belgium. The agreements were signed by Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei, Croatian Internal Affairs Minister, Deputy Prime Minister Davor Bozinovic (Croatia presides over the European Council now), and European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

Before the documents were signed, Davor Bozinovic reminded that the sides had been negotiating to sign the agreements since 2014. In his words, visa statistics points to strong ties between Belarus and the European Union. In 2018 nearly 700,000 citizens applied for a Schengen visa. The share of multiple-entry visas exceeded 80%. “Belarus is a country with a high number of issued Schengen visas and a low percentage of denials,” he pointed out.

In turn, Vladimir Makei noted that the sides had tried to sign the documents much earlier but they had not managed to accomplish that due to various reasons. Vladimir Makei said he expects the European Union to use all capabilities to temporarily freeze the cost of Schengen visas for Belarusians at €60 until the visa facilitation agreement comes into force.

After the agreements were signed Vladimir Makei met with Secretary General of the European External Action Service Helga Schmid and European Commissioner for Budget and Administration Johannes Hahn. The diplomats discussed the advancement of cooperation in the bilateral format and within the framework of the Eastern Partnership Initiative, the press service of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told BelTA.

Essentials of the Belarus-EU visa facilitation agreement

The agreement provides for mutual facilitation of visa procedures for a broad spectrum of citizens and for reducing visa fees. Citizens will be able to apply for visas to embassies of European nations and to visa centers.

The price for a Schengen zone visa for Belarusians will drop to €35 while the decision to issue a visa or not will be made within ten days (30 days if additional background checks are required). Many categories of citizens will be able to apply for visas without paying the fee depending on the purpose of the visit and will be able to get multiple-entry visas with longer periods of validity using a simplified procedure.

The cost of Belarusian visas for European Union citizens will drop to €35 as well. Apart from that, the list of justifications for issuing free visas for non-commercial purposes will be expanded. The duration of stay of foreigners in Belarus will be doubled from 90 days per year to 180 days.

When can Belarusians expect cheaper visas?

Once the documents are signed, they have to be ratified by the Belarusian parliament and endorsed by the European Parliament. They will come into force on the first day of the second month after the sides have notified each other about the completion of the ratification procedures. In other words, Belarusians will have to wait for several months.

The European Union's revised Visa Code will come into effect in early February. The document provides for raising visa fees up to €80. Belarusians will have to pay this price until the Belarus-EU visa facilitation agreement comes into effect. Once it happens, the visa fee will automatically drop from €80 to €35.

The European Union expects the agreements to come into force in June.

Essentials of the readmission agreement

Once the document comes into force, Belarus and the European Union will have to readmit (take back) their own citizens, third-country citizens, and stateless persons, who do not meet or no longer meet the requirements to legally stay in each other's territory.

Belarus will be granted a two-year transition period with regard to the readmission of third-country citizens. The joint declaration attached to the readmission agreement obliges the European Union to provide technical and financial support to Belarus in this area.

Representatives of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs previously stated that Belarusian government agencies believe the agreement does not pose significant migration risks for Belarus.

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