Visa Report Shows Little Progress

Embassy, October 11th, 2006
By Brian Adeba

Visa Report Shows Little Progress

Canada granted Estonia a visa-free regime last month, but a new EU report on visa reciprocity has bad news for six of its newest members.

Visitors from six eastern European countries still need visas to enter Canada because little progress was made to convince Ottawa to waive the requirement. A report by the European Commission examining the issue of visa reciprocity said Canada is reluctant to recognize the competence of the European Union's visa policy and insists on a bilateral approach with the eastern European countries.

Poland, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania and Hungary all joined the EU in May 2004. In accordance with EU regulations, the former Communist countries dropped the visa requirement for Canadian citizens two years ago. However, Canada did not reciprocate the measure.

The former Communist countries also argue that the conditions under which the visa requirement was imposed no longer exist since their admittance to the EU. Cyprus, Malta, Slovenia and Estonia round out the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004. Canada immediately lifted the visa requirement for citizens of Cyprus, Malta and Slovenia, and granted Estonia the same status last month.

But while noting that commitments made by Canadian authorities to resolve the issue “represent tangible progress,” the report released on Oct. 3 said the European Commission will continue to negotiate and push member states to meet the criteria set by Canada.

The report said a new “transparent” framework for dialogue regarding the criteria and the conditions to be met will enable the countries concerned “to make more rapid progress towards achieving that objective.”

However, some representatives from the eastern European countries expressed frustration with the report's findings. Pavel Vosalik, ambassador of the Czech Republic to Canada, said his country does not agree that progress has been made regarding Canada's stance on visa reciprocity.

“We don't share the opinion of the commission, and we feel disappointed about this report generally,” said Mr. Vosalik.

“We don't see why they treat Canada in a different way. After two and half years of negotiations, and I am talking of my own personal involvement here in Canada, we don't see any progress.”

Mr. Vosalik said the Czech Republic has cooperated with Canada on all aspects of the criteria, but he is surprised that the asymmetrical visa requirement still exists.

“We don't see any effort to solve it,” he said, adding that the Czech Republic welcomes Canada's promise of more transparent dialogue on the criteria “with reservations.” Mr. Vosalik also expressed frustration about the steps required for countries to meet Canada's criteria for a visa waiver.

“I would like to hear from Canada what it expects the Czech Republic to do because until today, we don't know what the real problem is.”

While noting that the EC report gives a clear indication on what the criteria are, Hungarian Ambassador Dnes Tomaj said ambiguities still exist in determining some of the requirements.

“For example, what does low level of organized crime mean? Or low rates of refusal?” he asked.

Some Good News

Citizenship and Immigration Canada uses many factors to gauge the visa waiver requirement. These includebut are not limited topublic safety and security issues, irregular movement of people, visa refusal rates, passport fraud, stability of government and public institutions, economic stability, social and human rights environment, and trends and patterns related to incidences of application fraud.

“Visa exemptions are not granted on the basis of membership to political and military organizations such as NATO or the EU,” said Melanie Carkener, a spokeswoman for CIC.

Mr. Tomaj argues that since joining the EU, the number of Hungarian citizens traveling to Canada has dropped considerablyto the three per cent level required by Canadabecause of visa-free travel within Europe and the availability of jobs on the continent. Ms. Carkener said she could not confirm or deny if three per cent is the figure countries must achieve in order to be exempted from the visa requirement.

But while admitting that organized crime still exists, Mr. Tomaj said Hungary has done a lot to weed out the problem, and he doesn't see how these factors can be used to deny a visa-free status for Hungarians.

“I have spent four years here and I didn't see any kind of link between organized crime here and in Hungary, so I think we are not a threat in this respect,” he said, stressing that Budapest is still open to dialogue to resolve the issue.

Latvian Ambassador Atis Sjanits said he is encouraged by a recent Canadian move to waive the visa requirement for Estonia. Canada removed the visa requirement for Estonian citizens on Sept. 27.

“We are hopeful that the same will happen for Latvia,” he said.

“All the tendencies are going towards that. We are very close to the criteria and this was the terminology used by the Canadian side,” said Mr. Sjanits.

“The situation looks promising and my forecast is that during the next year or two, we will be visa-exempt too.”

The European Commission is expected to submit another report on the issue of visa reciprocity with Canada to the European Parliament not later than March 31, next year.