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Uzbekistan Among Few Countries Keeping Exit Visas

Uzbek border guards keep watch on a bridge across the Kara-Su River border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The Tashkent government is the only former Soviet administration to still require exit visas for its citizens to leave the country.
Cuba's move to scrap exit visas for ordinary people leaves only a handful of countries keeping this communist-era travel restriction on their citizens, including North Korea and Uzbekistan.

A new law that came into effect in Cuba this week lifted long-running government travel restrictions that have been in place for more than 50 years.

The new migration and travel policy that came into force on January 14 scraps the need for an exit visa for most Cubans, eliminating a much-loathed bureaucratic procedure.

However, citizens of Uzbekistan seeking to travel abroad will have to wait before they can benefit from such a travel-policy change.

Uzbek citizens who intend to travel abroad must apply for an exit visa from the Interior Ministry’s local Office of Visas and Registration (OVIR).

The exit visa costs at least $25 and is valid for a two-year period.

The waiting period for getting the precious document is theoretically two weeks. But in practice applicants often have to wait for 20-30 days and, in some extreme cases, even months.

No reasonable explanation is usually provided by the authorities for such a delay or a refusal to issue an exit visa.

Leaving the country without the permit can lead to heavy fines and up to 10 years in prison.

The legal grounds for refusal include possession of state secrets, contractual obligations, criminal proceedings, and nonfulfillment of a court order.

Uzbek authorities insist that permission to travel abroad is needed to protect the country from terrorism.

Restricting Outside Contact

But Uzbek opposition members and human rights activists claim the authorities are using the exit-visa regime to put pressure on them and restrict their contacts with the West.

Last year, Uzbek authorities prohibited Vyacheslav Okhunov from traveling abroad after the artist equated Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of President Islam Karimov, with a monkey in his works of art.

Activists Dmitry Tikhonov, Bakhodir Namozov, Saida Kurbanova, Mamirjon Azimov, and Oktam Pardaev are among the hundreds of people who have been banned from traveling outside Uzbekistan in recent years.

Uzbekistan is the only former Soviet republic that still requires exit visas. Even Turkmenistan -- notorious for imposing travel restrictions on its citizens -- abandoned the practice in January 2002.

However, Tashkent has eliminated such requirements for Uzbek nationals visiting fellow members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

But in June 2012 authorities in Uzbekistan reintroduced exit-visa regimes for Uzbek nationals traveling to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, with whom Tashkent has had sometimes tense relations.

-- Antoine Blua with contributions from RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service

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