On July 11, 2017, the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, signed a decree for the introduction of foreign passports in place of exit visas, stickers pasted into passports permitting travel to countries with which the visa regime has been established. The decree states that a special department would be set up to facilitate the introduction of these new passports and that proposals would be submitted within a month. The issuance of new passports will not begin until 2019, which means that until that time the system of exit visas will remain in place.
But do you need a second passport for foreign travel?
Edition Gazeta.uz writes that the current Uzbek biometric passports are actually intended for foreign travel, so there is no need for the introduction of a second special passport. It turns out that every Uzbek citizen has a passport that can be used for any foreign travel without hindrance. This raises the question: why spend money, time and human resources on the introduction of a second passport? Why can’t the exit visas simply be revoked?
The system of exit visas in Uzbekistan is a restriction on the right of citizens to unimpeded exit from the country. The law defines the category of citizens on whom the exit restriction is imposed: people who have had access to state secrets; those against whom criminal proceedings have been brought; or those who are prohibited from traveling by court order.
These are all legal restrictions.
However, the requirement for each person to obtain permission to leave the country is completely unjustified. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Security Service of Uzbekistan are keen to retain exit visas since apart from guaranteeing total control, it is also a convenient opportunity to extort money from anyone who is forced to obtain permission to leave the country.
There is one more important factor: the authorities of Uzbekistan justify the necessity of exit visas by pointing out the existence of travel documents in other countries. Indeed, to leave the country, any citizen must obtain a passport, just as he needs to buy a ticket for the plane, but the Uzbek procedure is not permissive. That is, in a normal country, citizens cannot be told: “We will not give you a passport, because we think that your travel abroad is inappropriate.”
And this is the fundamental difference between the abominable system of exit visas in Uzbekistan, which sees every person as a criminal a priori.
The introduction of an extra passport means that the state reserves the right to restrict the travel of Uzbek citizens abroad, which de facto does not change anything. It is difficult to justify the refusal to issue a standard identity document, but introducing a second passport gives the security services an excellent opportunity to restrict freedom of movement.
At the end of May, the UN High Commissioner, Zeyd Ra’ad al-Hussein, sent a message to Shavkat Mirziyoyev, in which he thanked the president “for the implementation of judicial and legal reforms, as well as the abolition of the procedure for exit visas.” The High Commissioner was obviously a little too hasty with his words of appreciation.
By the Decree of the Government of Uzbekistan, No. 8 of January 6, 1995 “On the Approval of the Procedure for the Departure of Citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan Abroad and the Regulations on the Diplomatic Passport”, a system was established for the departure of citizens traveling abroad. According to the document, citizens of Uzbekistan have the right to travel abroad for private, public affairs, permanent residence, as tourists, for study, for work, for medical treatment, or for business trips. But at the same time, those wishing to go abroad must obtain permission, which is valid only for two years.
Permission is given in the form of an authorization sticker in the applicant’s passport. It is commonly known as an exit visa, a term and practice inherited from the USSR.
The permit for temporary travel abroad is required to be issued only for departure from Uzbekistan to countries with which the country has a visa regime. It is not required for travel to Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan (up to 60 days), Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia, with which a visa-free regime has been established.
If Uzbek citizens intend to travel to any other country other than the ones listed above, their passport must contain a valid exit visa. Departure to and from these countries without a valid exit visa incurs criminal liability in accordance with the legislation of Uzbekistan.
To receive the exit visa, citizens apply to the internal affairs bodies at their place of residence, presenting the completed application form and a passport. The application form must also be signed at the applicant’s place of work: the employer must sign and stamp it.
The internal affairs bodies are obliged to consider the application form within 15 days, but in practice, this term is most often extended.
The delay in issuing permission to leave often occurs for corruption reasons, in order to force the applicant to pay bribes. Most often, this happens in regions where citizens’ applications are often delayed by up to a month longer. But in Tashkent, such cases are also frequent.
Most worryingly, the Uzbek authorities use the refusal of an exit visa as a punishment for critical journalists, human rights defenders, and other undesirable people. For example, the prominent Tashkent artist, Vyacheslav Akhunov, has been unable to obtain an exit visa for more than six years. The reason for refusal: “inadvisability for the Republic of his departure.”
In May 2017, Polina Braunerg, a well-known lawyer, died in the Tashkent region. In recent years, she had been harassed by the authorities for her professional activities. Since 2014 Polina Braunerg had tried to obtain an exit visa to go abroad for medical treatment, but each time she was refused. The last time she was refused an exit visa was in February 2017, that is, under the rule of the new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev.