Armenia expects to begin next month official negotiations with the European Union on the facilitation of visa procedures for Armenian citizens seeking to travel to EU member states, Deputy Foreign Minister Karine Kazinian said on Friday.
The easing of the stringent visa rules would stem from Armenia’s inclusion in the EU’s Eastern Partnership program entitling six ex-Soviet states to closer political and economic partnership with the bloc.
The closer ties are due to be formalized by comprehensive “association agreements” between the EU and each of those states. Armenia and the EU launched the first round of association talks in July.
“Official Brussels has promised us that by the end of this year we will receive the mandate from the European Union’s Council to start the process of visa facilitation,” Kazinian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
She said the first phase of that process will take up to two years and should result in simpler visa requirements for certain group’s of Armenia’s population such as students, academics and businesspeople. The same simplified rules will eventually be applicable to all Armenian nationals, she said.
“We know that it’s going to be a long process and we have assumed obligations to expedite it,” added Kazinian.
Among those obligations is the signing of so-called “readmission agreements” aimed at facilitating the repatriation of illegal Armenian immigrant seeking asylum in the EU. According to the deputy minister, Yerevan has already signed such agreements with nine EU member states.
Earlier this year, the EU introduced additional requirements for the citizens of Armenia and other countries who plan to travel to the Schengen zone covering much of Europe. Schengen visa seekers already had to submit a long list of documents, including information on their employment, monthly income and bank accounts, to its consulates.
The strict visa rules are the result of large-scale illegal immigration to the EU from Armenia and other ex-Soviet republics that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union. Tens of thousands of Armenians are believed to reside illegally in France, Germany and other European countries.
According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 6,000 Armenian citizens, asked for a political asylum last year. The vast majority of them live in Europe.