After years of negotiation, representatives of the Republic of Belarus and of the European Union signed agreements to facilitate Schengen visa procedures and readmit individuals staying on either side without authorization.
The documents were signed in a ceremony that took place in Brussels, Belgium, by the following delegates of Belarus and the European Union:
- Vladimir Makei, Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs
- Davor Bozinovic, Croatian Internal Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister
- Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs
As per Bozinovic’s declarations during the ceremony, visa statistics point to strong ties between Belarus and the EU. According to Bozinovic’s statement, almost 700,000 Belarusian citizens applied for a Schengen visa in 2018 alone, most of which were multiple-entry visas.
"Belarus is a country with a high number of issued Schengen visas and a low percentage of denials," Bozinovic added.
After the agreements were signed, the Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vladimir Makei met with Helga Schmid, Secretary-General of the European External Action Service and Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for Budget and Administration, to discuss aspects of the bilateral cooperation within the framework of the Eastern Partnership Initiative.
Belarus-EU Visa Facilitation and Readmission Key Aspects
The agreement signed by the EU and Belarus in January 2020 aims for mutual facilitation of visa procedures as well as the reduction of visa fees for Belarusians.
As per the agreement signed, Belarusian passport holders will have the opportunity to apply for visas at embassies and visa centers of European Union nations.
Once the readmission agreement comes into effect, Belarus and the European Union will have to readmit the following individuals who do not meet the requirements to legally stay within each other's territory:
- Their own citizens
- Third-country citizens
- Stateless persons
The Republic of Belarus will be conceded a two-year period to transition in regard to the readmission of third-country citizens. The common declaration attached to the readmission arrangement requires the European Union to lend both technical and financial support to Belarus in this field.
As per declarations made by representatives of the Belarusian government, the agreement should not pose significant migration risks for the Eastern European nation.
Schengen Visa Fee Reduced for Belarusians
In regards to the visa facilitation agreement, Vladimir Makei stated his expectations for the European Union to show its support to temporarily freeze the cost of Schengen visas for Belarusians at least until the agreement is fully implemented. European Union representatives expect the agreements to come into force in June 2020.
The representatives agreed upon dropping the price for a Schengen zone visa for Belarusian passport holders, amongst other matters, such as:
- Shortening the decision time to grant an EU visa or not to Belarusian candidates to 10 days (or 30 days when additional background checks are required)
- Waving visa fees for specific non-commercial travel purposes
- Longer stays permitted to multiple-entry visa holders
- Simplifying Schengen visa procedures for Belarusian applicants
According to the press release published after the ceremony, the agreement "... foresees for an enlarged number of categories of travelers the possibility to apply for a Schengen visa free of charge, as well as to receive multiple-entry visas with increasingly longer validity periods (up to 5 years)".
Can Belarusians Obtain an ETIAS?
The former Soviet Republic of Belarus is one of just a handful of European countries whose nationals are still required to carry a valid Schengen visa in order to be granted entry into the Schengen Area.
Perhaps the agreements signed by Belarus and the EU will also open the doors for Belarusians to be eligible for an ETIAS in the near future.
The ETIAS is an electronic travel authorization —not a visa— which can be obtained online without visiting an embassy, and with much simpler procedures. It is available for travelers from countries with visa-waiver agreements with the Schengen Area.