Greece’s foreign minister on Monday expressed “optimism” that the first phase of an express visa program for Turkish citizens will commence for five Greek islands in the eastern Aegean by March 30.

Minister George Gerapetritis, in reply to a tabled Parliament question, responded to PASOK deputy and former tourism minister Giorgos Nikitiadis, who is elected from the Dodecanese islands’ constituency.

The former added that a full application of the fast-track visa scheme will be inaugurated in the “immediate period” after the initial pilot phase.

In turn, Nikitiadis reminded that the express visa program applicable for the five islands was set to debut on Feb. 1, 2024 but was postponed to March 1.

Gerapetritis blamed the delay on an “extremely complex exercise” that requires the simultaneous cooperation of a handful of ministries.

Athens promised last year to institute the fast-track tourist visa for Turkish nationals, with the latter applicable for at least 10 islands. The Greek government has already received a “green light” from the EU Commission.

Among others, the program foresees customs posts in the specific islands where the visa will be issued on-the-spot following the collection of certain biometric data, specifically fingerprints.

Gerapetritis reminded that the program, eyed for a handful of islands close to the Turkish coast, is a unilateral initiative by Athens and not part of any agreement with the Turkish government.

Asked about the prospect of the scheme being expanded to even more islands, Gerapetritis said “I understand that our islands would like to be included in the program and indeed I have been the recipient of many such requests, but there are limits to how far we can extend this program, given its exceptional nature in relation to the law governing the Schengen pact.”