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Ukraine: visa-free travel to EU could boost short-term study

Citizens of Ukraine are now able to travel to the majority of EU member states without a visa for up to 90 days, as per new regulations implemented this month.

Verkhovna Rada, the government building in Kiev, Ukraine. Photo: wikicommons/prymasal

"What is more important – it makes our students more mobile"

The visa liberalisation, which was announced in May, permits Ukrainians to travel to any EU country for up to 90 days in a 180-day period, with the exception of the UK and Ireland.

Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland are also included in the participating countries.

“Simplified travelling, and thus a need to communicate with foreigners, will stimulate our people to learn foreign languages”

This announcement is expected to boost short-term language programs and internships, and has been praised for strengthening connections between the country and the EU bloc.

Speaking exclusively to The PIE News, Ukraine’s vice prime minister for European integration, Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, said this visa liberalisation provides young people with “new unlimited opportunities of direct contacts, development and communication”.

“It is not only about cutting expenses, which is important for people who do not earn their own money yet,” she said. “Visa free travel gives an opportunity to save lots of time while preparing documents, and what is more important – it makes our students more mobile.”

Klympush-Tsintsadze added that easing mobility in Europe could have a positive effect on language learning.

“Simplified travelling, and thus a need to communicate with foreigners, will stimulate our people to learn foreign languages,” she said. “And that, [aside] from convenience abroad, will make a person more competitive in Ukraine.”

German, French, Polish and English are among the most popular languages for Ukrainians to study, according to Iryna Partytska, program director at Istudy Education Abroad in Kiev, meaning that study to Germany, France, Poland and Malta will be popular.

“We are sure that these changes will encourage Ukrainians to study abroad as it makes the process much easier for them,” she said, adding that there is therefore less of a need to plan so far in advance, with no risk of a visa refusal.

“They will have low risks, can save a small amount of money from the budget not paying consular fees, and last-minute booking will be possible,” she said.

However, Partytska added that although they were time consuming and increased the cost of study abroad, the visas themselves were never the biggest challenge for Ukrainian students.

“At the moment, the biggest challenge we have in Ukraine is to make the economic situation stable, create a strong middle class sector in order to make study abroad an affordable option for a wider group of people,” she said.

The cost of a short-term tourist visa to Poland and Germany, for example, sat at just under 1030 Ukrainian hryvnia (€35), excluding a service fee, and other optional services.

However, with the average monthly wage in Ukraine at 6659 UAH, or €229, the cost of studying abroad prevents many from going overseas.

The challenge of cost may mean the impact of the regulatory change on student numbers will be limited, echoed Maria Zakharova, education coordinator at the British Council in Ukraine.

“An obstacle of having to prepare a large pack of documents to apply for visa has been removed”

“In our view, this will encourage Ukrainian students to go abroad in the sense that an obstacle of having to prepare a large pack of documents to apply for a visa has been removed,” she forecasted.

“But the visa-free regime will not dramatically increase the number of students, as the major factor is the cost, which is too high for most people.”

Education abroad holds enormous prestige for Ukrainian students, added Zakharova.

“But the main factors preventing achieving this are absence of bank loans for students, low salaries and the weakness of national currency against the euro and dollar.”

And Vice Prime Minister Klympush-Tsintsadze said that while the cost of travelling has previously been an obstacle, new demand will change the market, noting that “visa liberalisation has already led to a launch of new railway connections between Ukraine and the EU”.

“Also, we expect that low cost air carriers will enter Ukraine,” she said. “All of that makes us closer.”

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