STOP RIGHT THERE, EH: Lithuanians visiting Canada still need visas despite the fact that Estonians, and now Latvians, can travel there visa-free.
VILNIUS - The Canadian government's Oct. 31 decision to lift visa requirements for Latvians (see briefs, page 3) has left Lithuania the last Baltic country whose citizens still need visas to travel to the land of the maple leaf.
Canada is Europe's second largest trading partner, and despite EU pressure to have Canada lift visa requirements for all the new member states, the country is still being selective in which ones it will grant visa-free status.
"Currently, Canada is making decisions regarding canceling the visa regime for foreign citizens invoking rather strict criteria of a technical nature, the most important of which [is the] percent of refusals for issuing visas. And even though Canada states that Lithuania is making considerable progress in effectuating their criteria, we still do not satisfy them," Violeta Gaizauskaite, spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry's press office, said.
Habib Massoud, head of the Office of the Canadian Embassy to Lithuania, said that his embassy issued 961 tourist visas to Lithuanians in 2006, and about 10 percent of applicants were refused.
He said that an immigration officer at the embassy can deny a visa if he or she doesn't find an applicant "a legitimate visitor" to the country.
"The application review can be a matter of seconds or hours, depending on person to person interviews. If the officer has doubts, he or she can invite a person for an interview and give the person a second chance," he said. "We only had a small number of cases where an immigration officer has doubts and has to ask for an interview," Massoud said.
"The figure [of refusal] has been dropping over the last few years," Massoud said.
However the criteria for deciding which countries go visa-free also includes how many citizens violate their visa terms or claim refugee status, the cooperation of police and border control of the country, and passport security.
One of the reasons for denying a visa-free regime to Lithuanians is the ongoing problem of over-staying their visas. A visitor visa allows travelers to stay no more than 180 days.
Kestutis Girnius, associate professor of political science and international relations at Vilnius University, said it's possible that criminal acts are also preventing Lithuanians being given visa-free status.
"It may perhaps be border control issues, passport manipulation, or criminality such as prostitution, human smuggling or petty theft," Girnius said.
A delegation of Canadian government officials will meet with Lithuanian officials in December to review Lithuania's progress toward a visa-free regime.
"We are constantly monitoring and reviewing which countries are working closely with the set of criteria from the Canadian government," Girnius said.