Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has underscored his support for Petition #33 while NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has provided reassurance that his party supports visa-free travel for Ukrainians by declaring that he believes that facilitating travel between our countries is beneficial for all parties and it will further strengthen the already robust Canada-Ukraine relationship. Meanwhile, in 2016 Green Party Leader Elizabeth May wrote “visa-free business and tourism travel is central to stimulating economic growth and job creation, and eliminating this unnecessary red-tape will facilitate the free flow of ideas between our two countries. In the long term, this will benefit both Canada and Ukraine.”
The sentiments of these party leaders have been echoed by more than 140 Members of Parliament and Senators, including a dozen Liberal MPs, that have also provided formal letters of support. Moreover, the bipartisan parliamentary Standing Committee on National Defence has formally recommended visa-free travel for Ukrainians. Clearly, support for visa-free travel transcends party lines.
However, despite a written commitment to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) prior to the last federal election, the Liberal Party of Canada has taken few steps to implement a visa-free regime with Ukraine. In November 2017, Ukraine was added to the list of eligible countries for the CAN+ program, yet the overall visa rejection rate remains stubbornly high at around 30-35%. The current application process is cumbersome while Ukrainians have to provide stacks of supporting documentation when applying for a Canadian temporary resident visa. Rejection notices are usually vague with little to no detailed explanation as to why the applicant was refused.
In contrast to Canada’s current approach, the European Union (EU) has welcomed more than 500,000 visa-free Ukrainian travellers since June 2017. Ukrainian citizens no longer require visas to travel to most EU countries for tourism, family visits and business reasons – they simply require a valid biometric passport. Approximately 7 million Ukrainian citizens now hold a biometric passport, which enables them to enter the EU without a visa for 90 days in any 180-day period. These passports contain an embedded microprocessor chip with the individual’s biometric data (e.g., person’s image, fingerprints and electronic signature), which cannot be forged. Visa-free travel has had a positive effect on EU-Ukraine trade and the total number of trips by Ukrainian citizens to European countries has significantly increased.
As the federal government can leverage the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA) and support of 1.3 million Canadians with Ukrainian roots, the Liberal Party should tear down the last great wall preventing greater people-to-people and business-to-business ties between Canada and Ukraine. Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj has referred to it as “the last Soviet legacy dividing our two countries.” Community organizations such as UCC should also redouble its efforts on this file and more forcefully advocate for a visa-free regime.
If Ukrainians with biometric passports can travel to Berlin, Paris or Rome without a visa for up to 90 days, they should be allowed to travel to Ottawa, Winnipeg or Vancouver under similar conditions. The EU has recognized Ukraine’s reform efforts while here in Canada support for visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens grows day-by-day within the walls of the House of Commons.
The time has come to remove the temporary visa requirement for Ukrainian citizens. Canadian opposition parties support this move along with individual Liberal MPs. If the Liberal Party should follow suit, all Canadians and Ukrainians stand to benefit from the creation of more jobs, increased economic growth, and greater prosperity – the opportunities are limitless.