Belarus, EU sign visa facilitation agreement, readmission agreement

On 8 January, the Republic of Belarus and the European Union signed agreements on facilitating visa procedures and on readmitting the individuals staying without an authorization. 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.

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 euro 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 euro 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.

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.

The European Union's revised Visa Code will come into effect in early February. The document provides for raising visa fees up to 80 euro. 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 euro.

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

Once the readmission agreement 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.

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