Russia and the European Union have agreed on a number of joint steps towards visa-free travel. But before they could announce the date they get on the visa-free travel, the two countries have to meet the requirements of the agreement in full. Russia and the EU are to take a number of joint steps, including measures to protect passports and other identification papers. Residents who want to travel visa-free will be required to carry biometric passports which contain data about fingerprints, iris image and other biological information pertaining to one particular individual.
That checklist, once completed, is expected to pave the way to a formal waiver of visas between Russia and all EU member states – ultimately including those such as the UK which have opted out of the Schengen agreement.
Russia will start issuing biometric passports starting this autumn in St. Petersburg. Visa-free travel will only be available to people with biometric passports. But of greater relevance to expats in Russia will be the fourth and final block of amendments, which outlines plans to make it easier for everyone to get the documents needed to travel to and stay in Russia or Europe.
As well as limiting the deal to biometric passports only, the visa waiver will only apply to short visits: long-term working visas on both sides will remain in place, but visa-free travel for up to 180 days in total each year would be possible.
And initially the visa-free regime will only cover the Schengen zone, although this may be revised. But since the latter includes countries which are not members of the EU, those countries (Switzerland, Iceland, Norway) will have to conclude individual agreements with Russia.
The two sides are to finalize the number of steps at a meeting of the Russia-EU Permanent Council in St.Petersburg on May 19th. However, Moscow and Brussels have agreed that Russians and Europeans will be able to travel visa-free no more than 180 days a year and only to countries of the Schengen Area.
An agreement to this effect is expected to be signed at a Russia-EU summit in Nizhny Novgorod on the 9th and 10th of June. Once the deal in made, visa-free travel will come into effect fairly soon, as the requirements for it are easy to be met and monitored, so delaying it deliberately for political considerations just won’t wash.