OTTAWA — The federal government is resisting calls to follow the European Union’s lead and begin lifting visa requirements for Ukraine.
Representatives from Canada’s largest and most influential Ukrainian lobby group made the request during a meeting with Immigration Minister John McCallum this month, arguing that visa-free travel for Ukrainian travellers would help the country’s economic and political development.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) noted the EU is now looking to drop visa requirements for Ukrainians wanting to visit the so-called Schengen area. The EU’s top migration official said the proposal, which still has to be approved by the European Parliament, is a recognition of recent reforms in Ukraine.
“This is the result of the success of the Ukrainian government in achieving far-reaching and difficult reforms in … areas such as the rule of law and justice reform,” EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said. “I am very satisfied with the progress achieved.”
But Canada’s immigration department says Ukraine is not ready for visa-free travel to Canada.
“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada continues to monitor conditions in Ukraine, however Ukraine does not currently meet the criteria for a visa exemption,” department spokeswoman Nancy Chan said in an email.
“We continue to look at service offerings that would assist Ukrainians to travel to Canada, such as the multiple-entry visa.”
Visa-free travel between Canada and Ukraine would be a huge development for the 1.2 million Canadians of Ukrainian descent, many of whom are politically active and maintain close ties to their ancestral homeland. For that reason, the Liberal government could face political pressure to revisit the issue.
UCC senior policy adviser Orest Zakydalsky said Ukraine has made “great strides” since a popular uprising ousted the pro-Russian government in Kyiv in February 2014. Visa-free travel “would increase people-to-people, cultural, and economic ties, and would serve to continue to build on Canada’s especially close relationship with Ukraine,” he added.
“We call on the government to establish a timetable and criteria for the lifting of visa requirements. And we look forward to working with the Government of Canada and the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to establish a visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens travelling to Canada.”
The Liberal government is already facing demands to drop visa requirements for three other countries. Mexico has been pushing hard for its citizens to have visa-free access to Canada. The Liberals had promised during the election to drop the requirement immediately, but has not yet acted on the promise.
The European Union is also threatening to hold up a major free trade deal with Canada unless the government drops visa requirements for Romania and Bulgaria.
Business groups and even foreign governments have panned Canada’s visa regime as an obstacle to economic and cultural ties with other parts of the world. Successive federal governments have cited security concerns and uncontrolled refugee flows as among the reasons for keeping the system in place.
The Liberals, like the Conservatives before them, have promised to stand with Ukraine and try to help it stand on its own two feet following the February 2014 revolution, which was followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of civil war in eastern Ukraine.
However, it has also promised to re-engage with Russia after the Conservatives cut essentially all contacts.
Canada and its allies have also raised numerous concerns about corruption in Ukraine, whose political situation has been marred by a standoff between reformers and the country’s oligarchs.
Source :National Post