Between January and Dec. 8 of 2016, ahead of the expected impending implementation of visa freedom by the EU, Estonia issued visas to a combined total of just under 15,000 citizens of either Georgia or Ukraine.
"Between Jan. 1 and Dec. 8, 2016, 13,252 visas were issued to citizens of Ukraine and 1,730 to citizens of Georgia," Estonian Ministry of Foregin Affairs spokesperson Sandra Kamilova told BNS on Thursday.
EU negotiators indicated on Thursday that they had resolved an internal disagreement which had delayed the implementation of visa-free travel to Europe for Ukrainians and Georgians; under a compromise deal struck amid fears over immigration and terrorism, the European Commission as well as the union's 28 member states will be able to reimpose visa requirements more quickly and easily if needed.
"Visa freedom will significantly facilitate travel by citizens of these countries," Kamilova added. "Besides, this is a rather important step on these countries' path toward euro-integration."
Under the deal reached, visa requirements may be reintroduced if there is a surge of citizens from a non-EU country such as Ukraine or Georgia remaining irregularly in EU territory. The requriements my also be reintroduced if there is an increase in unfounded asylum applications or a lack of cooperation on returning migrants. Visas could also be reintroduced if nationals from a non-EU country such as Ukraine or Georgia are deemed to pose a security threat, reported Euractiv's online news portal.
EU institutions exerted maximum pressure to overcome this hurdle. Ukraine was also promised visa freedom if it met a number of conditions, including taking steps to tackle corruption. Visa freedom has not yet been introduced, however, as the EU wated to put an emergency visa suspension mechanism in place first.
Before Georgia, which has a population of nearly five million people, and Ukraine, with its population of just over 44 million, can enjoy visa freedom within the EU, the visa suspension deal must now be formally approved by the EU's member states as well as the European Parliament.
Editor: Editor: Aili Vahtla