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Uzbekistan proposes scrapping exit visas

Uzbek citizens will from 2019 be issued travel passports instead of having to apply for exit visas.

The government in Uzbekistan has published draft rules online that will lead to the abolition of a Soviet-style system of exit visas that rights activists say violate the basic right to freedom of movement.

The new rules, which were posted online on August 7 for public discussion, envision Uzbek citizens being issued foreign travel passports from January 1, 2019.

Possessing that document will obviate the need for people to get exit authorization stickers pasted into their passports. Newborns will be eligible for passports valid for two years. Children aged from one to 15 years old can get five-year passports, while anybody older can get documents valid for 10 years.

As of now, anybody wishing to leave the country must have a departure authorization sticker — the infamous exit visa — in their travel document. Applications have to be submitted to the Interior Ministry’s visa and registration department, also known as OVIR. The exit visa is not required for traveling to parts of the former Soviet Union, such as to Russia and Kazakhstan.

Rights activists have long complained about the practice of requiring citizens to obtain permission to leave the country, pointing out that it violates international conventions on freedom of movement.

But from the government’s perspective, the Soviet-vintage system has long eased maintaining close tabs on the population. For politically suspect individuals, applications for exit visas were frequently rejected, in effect trapping the person inside the country. Activists say this practice was regularly used against dissidents and independent journalists. The scrapping of this requirement signals that Uzbekistan is committing to further political liberalization.

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has been on the receiving end of pleas to scrap the exit visa ever since he took over the reins of power, following the death of Islam Karimov. The change of policy appears like a recognition of the drumbeat of public pressure.

Uzbekistan proposes scrapping exit visas

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