YEREVAN -- Armenia says it will begin negotiations with the European Union next month on the easing of visa procedures for Armenians seeking to travel to the European Union, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Karine Kazinian told RFE/RL on November 26 that EU officials "had promised us that by the end of this year we will receive the mandate from the EU Council to start the process of visa facilitation."
The easing of the stringent visa rules would stem from Armenia's inclusion in the EU's Eastern Partnership program, which entitles six ex-Soviet states -- Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine -- to closer political and economic partnership with the bloc.
The closer ties are due to be formalized by comprehensive Association Agreements between the EU and each of the states. Armenia and the EU launched the first round of association talks in July.
She said the first phase of that process will take up to two years and should result in simpler visa requirements for certain groups, such as students, academics, and businesspeople.
The same simplified rules will eventually be applicable to all Armenian nationals, she said.
"We know that it's going to be a long process and we have assumed obligations to expedite it," Kazinian added.
Among those obligations is the signing of so-called readmission agreements aimed at facilitating the repatriation of illegal Armenian immigrants seeking asylum in the EU. Kazinian said Yerevan had already signed such an agreement with nine of the 27 EU member states.
Earlier this year, the EU introduced additional requirements for the citizens of Armenia and other countries who plan to travel to the Schengen zone, which covers most of Europe.
Schengen visa seekers already had to submit a long list of documents, including information on their employment, monthly income, and bank accounts, to its consulates.
The strict visa rules are the result of large-scale illegal immigration to the EU from Armenia and other ex-Soviet republics that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union. Tens of thousands of Armenians are believed to reside illegally in France, Germany, and other EU countries.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says more than 6,000 Armenian citizens asked for political asylum last year. The vast majority of them live in Europe.