Nick Krawetz for Ukrainian Winnipeg
In 1891, a century before Canada was among the first countries to recognize Ukraine’s independence, Ukrainian immigrants began arriving in Canada. Despite facing initial hardships, Ukrainians in Canada endured and prospered through will and determination. Most notably, 125 years of subsequent waves of immigration has resulted in immeasurable contributions of Ukrainian-Canadians in the development of Canada, while Ukrainian culture has been woven into the fabric of Canadian society.
As President Petro Poroshenko stated in his address to the Canadian parliament in September 2014, “Mr. Prime Minister, I remember you mentioned that Canada is probably the most Ukrainian nation outside of Ukraine itself. You know what? This is absolutely true. Let me reciprocate. There are great European nations that stood as the source of the foundation of modern Canada. Canada has friends all over the globe, and the closest one is next to it. However, I doubt that you will find another nation that would say so sincerely what I say to you: Ukraine is probably the most Canadian nation after Canada itself.”
While addressing parliamentarians and Canadians alike, Poroshenko also noted Ukrainian freedom, democracy, and its European future are possible and reachable. That is why millions of Ukrainians have demanded reform, defended democracy, defended freedom, and are seeking a membership perspective in the European Union (EU).
And that is why history is not the only thing that binds Ukraine and Canada. The Revolution of Dignity, annexation of Crimea, and Russian-fueled war in the Donbas all speak to the yearning of Ukrainian citizens to live in a country guided by democratic norms, the rule of law, and market-based economic principles – the same norms and principles that Canada lives by and strives to advance around the world.
In light of the recent signing of the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA), the Canada-Ukraine bilateral relationship is potentially now set to generate significant commercial benefits for both Canadian and Ukrainian businesses. CUFTA also aims to support the Government of Ukraine’s economic reform and development efforts, strengthen the Canada-Ukraine partnership for peace and prosperity, and help pave the way for long-term security, stability, and broad-based economic development in Ukraine.
In order to facilitate economic growth and CUFTA’s potential, Canada should abolish temporary resident visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens. Back in 2005, Ukraine took this unilateral step for Canadians when President Viktor Yushchenko signed Decree No. 1134/2005 “On the Introduction of a Visa-Free Regime for Canadian Citizens,” which allows Canadians to enter Ukraine or transit through its territory without a visa for a period of up to 90 days. Visas are still required for Canadians who enter Ukraine for the purpose of employment, permanent residency, study, work or for any other purpose if they are going to stay in Ukraine for more than 90 days.
In 2005, Ukraine also abolished visas for nationals of the EU as a goodwill gesture and a sign of openness and desire for EU integration. Moreover, last year Ukraine initialed its Association Agreement with the EU, which includes a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement that is expected to be fully implemented starting on January 1, 2016.
The Europeans have acknowledged the value of a visa-free regime as it granted Ukraine an Action Plan on Visa Liberalization at the Ukraine-EU Summit in November 2010. This Action Plan transitioned abstract preliminary discussions to substantive work with clear prospects of introducing a visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens for short-term travel to the EU.
The Action Plan is currently being implemented using a phased-approach and it is comprised of various components:
1) document security, including biometrics;
2) illegal immigration, including readmission;
3) public order and security; and
4) external relations and fundamental rights.
In December 2015, the EU is expected to publish a report on Ukraine’s progress in the implementation of the Visa Liberalization Action Plan. Many EU leaders, including European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Council Donald Tusk, European Parliament president Martin Schulz, and EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood and Enlargement Johannes Hahn, have expressed support for granting a visa-free regime to Ukraine in 2016 if Ukraine achieves the benchmarks laid out in the Action Plan.
Ukraine is currently working on meeting the EU’s recommendations, but more work still needs to be done. However, Ukraine recently introduced biometric passports, which include advanced security features that meet (and in some cases even exceed) European and international standards in terms of security and biometrics.
Canadians and their elected officials have repeatedly encouraged greater ties with Ukraine, and the Government of Canada has acted. It is essential that our community renew its efforts to raise awareness of this issue and approach our elected officials to make visa-free travel (up to 90 days) for Ukrainians a priority.
Undoubtedly, current Canadian temporary resident visa requirements hamper Ukrainian businesses from investing in Canada. These restrictions also obstruct knowledge transfer and professional exchanges, which ultimately undermines the goals of CUFTA. If Canada reciprocates by abolishing these restrictions, Canada should also open additional consular offices in other Ukrainian cities (e.g., Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Odesa) and boost Canadian Embassy staff in order to deal with the demands and realities of Ukrainian travelers.
If the EU is willing to grant visa-free travel to Ukrainians, then so should Canada. Visa-free business and tourism travel is central to stimulating economic growth and job creation on both sides of the Atlantic. 125 years of Ukrainian immigration to Canada is testament to what Canada and Ukraine can achieve together in the years ahead.