Starting on January 12, 2015, Ukrainians may apply for biometric passports. A biometric passport will look like a regular one, but will have an electronic chip implanted with personal data of the carrier, digitized photo, signature and fingerprints. The document will cost from 518 to 1,028 hryvnias, depending on the production time. It will be available from 35 dedicated offices of the State Migration Service, with 7 of these being located in Kyiv. Experts believe that a network of such size will prove to be too small, because, according to preliminary estimates, nearly 8 million citizens will want to obtain such a document. Queues and abuses will follow, experts warn. The Printing Combine “Ukraine,” which will print biometric passports, will produce no more than 2 million of them this year, with monthly rate of 120,000 to 150,000, according to estimates of the Institute for Political Analysis and International Studies.
Biometric passport is a must for visa-free travel. Biometric IDs are already used by 45 countries. Many of them, like Ukraine, retain the option of obtaining non-biometric passports, particularly for people with certain religious beliefs. The government hopes that the EU will cancel visa regime for Ukrainians holding biometric IDs in May this year. The document will be valid for 10 years, just as before.
However, biometric identification, according to experts, is no guarantee of the introduction of a visa-free regime. According to director of the Institute for Political Analysis and International Studies Serhii Tolstov, visa-free travel regime now being designed for Ukrainians is not really visa-free, for visa-free entry will be short-term only, lasting 90 days and leaving legal employment off-limits, but our citizens will still be interested, as it will facilitate their informal employment in the EU, attractive due to poor economic situation in this country.
“The EU will treat visa-free regime with Ukraine carefully. They will be especially careful, I think, given the situation in our country and the number of refugees from the Donbas, because of the risk that they may request asylum in the EU. However, Europeans do not like admitting refugees. Still, one can easily predict that Ukraine will generate a large number of people who want to obtain informal employment in Europe as well as those who ask for refugee status. Therefore, in the case of this agreement being signed, it is possible that the European side will make amendments to it. The Ukrainian side will use the rather slow pace of issuing passports as a counterargument,” Tolstov maintained.
And vice versa – the improved ability to control inflow of illegal immigrants from our country, which, according to various estimates, number up to 5 million, can be a boon for Europe, prompting it to sign an agreement on visa-free travel with Ukraine. From now on, Ukrainians violating the conditions of stay in a foreign country would be unable to change their Ukrainian travel passport (or their name, as it was often done). Thus, the person on record as a violator of a specific country’s laws will probably be unable to enter it ever again. Experts remind us that the introduction of biometric passports was a response of the international community to the terrorist threat and the increase in world migration flows.
Ruslan BORTNYK, director of the Ukrainian Institute for Political Analysis and Management:
“I will order a biometric passport, because I want to test the changing attitude to Ukrainians abroad myself. I travel a lot and sometimes meet with openly xenophobic attitudes to us Ukrainians. However, I believe that the production of passports in Ukraine is a very big business. Today, about 20 million Ukrainians have travel passports. Estimating at the lowest price, they cost at least 10 billion hryvnias. This ‘business opportunity’ is now being opened for the third time in 15 years. The introduction of biometric passports does not guarantee that Ukraine will sign a visa-free travel agreement with the EU in Riga this March, as promised by the president. I dare predict that this travel regime will not yet come to Ukraine. One of the main reasons is that Europe is not ready to ‘digest’ so many Ukrainian guest workers, not when it has not coped yet with Bulgarian, Romanian, Polish, and other workers. I think that March will see us getting a new procedure, a new action plan, a new package of ‘homework.’ Therefore, I would not link the introduction of biometric passports to the introduction of a visa-free regime. Beyond these reservations, there is a national security issue here. After all, due to the fact that these passports are being made at the ‘Ukraine’ Printing Combine, partly owned by many commercial structures, we have to regard the chips themselves as foreign products. Accordingly, Ukraine cannot guarantee the security of this information and prevent it leaking to databases of other states. Deputy Interior Minister Eka Zguladze’s statement that fingerprints will disappear after being used for passports should be seen as a joke, because why do these fingerprints at all then? Why collect data if they are not to be combined in some universal database? And they will be combined into a single database, called the Uniform State Register of Population. These risks have not been analyzed yet.”