On January 9, the Belarus leader signed quite a sensational decree No 8, which waives visas for citizens from 80 countries, including 39 European states and the United States. The measure stipulates that foreigners from those countries can stay in Belarus without a visa only for five days or less and only on condition they enter via the Minsk National Airport, the main aerial gateway. Although it is not a total openness for an isolated country like Belarus, many observers in and outside agree this is a step forward. Here are the answers to some of the key questions about the edict.
When will it come into force?
One month after official publication. The National Legal Information Center told Euroradio it is yet to receive the text of the Decree No 8. "We are still waiting for a letter from the Office of the President. It is likely to reach us today in the afternoon. If everything is okay, the text of the document will be published on our portal on January 11," said the Center's officials. It means the five-day visa-free regime is likely to come into force on February 11, 2017.
How will the time of stay be tracked?
The automated system at the Minsk National Airport records the time of arrival for every foreigner. As a backup, the number of days spent in Belarus can be verified manually by the stamps of border guards in the passport. It is important to note that days are counted inclusive and regardless of the hour of arrival. In other words, if someone crosses the border at the airport at 2300 on Monday, she or he can leave Belarus without a problem not later than Friday - it means that the actual stay will be four days only.
What happens if a foreigner stays without a visa longer?
In this case, s/he will be subjected to a fine, deportation and even a stamp in the passport saying that entry to Belarus is forbidden. Everything will depend on the cause of the delayed departure and even the personality of a border guard. In other words, the border control authorities may treat every case on an individual basis. Anyway, punishment is envisaged the same as in a situation when border guards spot an expired visa during passport checks before departure.
Can I stay for just one day more, because I REALLY need it?
It is possible if you can REALLY justify your need to migration officers at a local police department. If you manage to convince them it is death or life to stay longer in Belarus, they will authorize the extension of your stay beyond the allowed 5-day period. Besides, the visa-free stay will be extended in cases of illness or hospitalization. In other words, no one will forcefully carry you on stretches from the hospital to the airport to meet the deadline.
Arrival only at the airport. What about departure?
Departure is allowed only from the same airport. Unfortunately, arriving by plane from Berlin to Minsk and then hopping on a Minsk-Berlin train will not be possible.
Not all foreigners have travel passports. Many have ID cards.
Passports are a must for those willing to come for this 5-day visa-free stay. Our border guards are yet to recognize plastic ID cards. Make sure not to forget to have a valid medical insurance (that covers at least 10 000 euros of costs) and cash money in amount of 20 euros per day.
What about the 'black lists' of personae non gratae? Will they be allowed to enter without a visa?
Unlikely. Aleh Lyashuk who heads the border control department at the State Border Control Committee of Belarus said that if a foreigner was for some reason previously banned from entering the country and refused a visa, s/he would be simply turned around at the airport in Minsk. The officer did not elaborate how to find out if you are on a black list before your journey to Belarus.