Georgia’s New Visa Regime: A Complicated Affair
04 September, 2014
Georgia’s New Visa Regime: A Complicated Affair
Ever since new visa and migratory regulations were announced, Georgia’s foreigners and expats scrambled to apply for residence permits in time to meet the government’s September 1st deadline. Many who have lived and worked in Georgia for years now await the status of a residence permit full disclosure: this correspondent included.
Previously, Georgia had a liberal, almost nonexistent visa regime at least for visitors from countries on which Georgia had good terms. Foreigners were welcomed and even encouraged to come to Georgia to spend money, to work and to invest without any difficulty or time limit. For many, this was too good to be true. And as of September 1st, this is no longer the case.
For the last year, the Georgian government has been constructing its new visa and migration policy (modeled after the EU’s Schengen visa policy), which has just now come into effect. The new laws require foreign citizens to apply electronically for visas in advance at their country’s Georgian consulate, except in certain cases (such as humanitarian). The cost of the visa is 50 USD.
Last week on August 26, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs officially announced a list of 94 countries whose citizens fall into Georgia’s “visa-free regime” and the 24 countries whose citizens now do not. For the citizens of the 94 visa-free-regime countries, which include NATO an EU members, foreign citizens can stay in the country for no more than 90 out of every 180 days. New procedures and detention centers for expelling illegal immigrants are being put in place.
For foreigners who were inside Georgian territory before September 1st, the previous law will apply for one year. Yet if those foreigners leave the country during this year, then the new laws come into effect, creating an interesting situation for any foreigners based out of Georgia with travel plans.
In an interview with Georgian Journal, the director of the Foreign Ministry’s consular department, Giorgi Tabatadze, explained that the purpose of the new laws is to “harmonize” Georgia’s immigration policy with the European Union’s. Tabatadze concedes that the new regulations are not a prerequisite for a visa-free regime with the EU, nor are the new laws required by the EU, though he explains that “a harmonization” with the EU’s migration policy is necessary to establish a visa-free regime with the EU.
When asked about the complications brought on by the new laws for foreigners
currently in the country, Tabatadze pragmatically explains, “Of course there will be difficulties; in August we had no regulations and now in September we do. This is a transitional period.” Tabatadze emphasizes the work that has gone into the program for the past year, and he is confident that after “three or four months,” the process will be much easier, especially with the electronic system in place.
Others are more skeptical about the new laws and are concerned that they have created bureaucratic red tape, which could disincentivize foreign investment from companies seeking to send employees to Georgia. Yet Tabatadze explains that “in the last five years or so” Georgia, as a country, has transitioned from “a country of origin” into “a country of transit or a country of destination.” Thus Georgia has seen an influx of migrants, and he concludes, “if [those migrants] have good reasons to come, then no problem.”
When asked if the new laws have anything to do with a Georgia-only-for-Georgians public sentiment, Tabatadze replies, “Absolutely not. Georgia is not only for Georgians; Georgia is also for honest foreigners… or should I say ‘bona fide’ foreigners.” As many of those foreigners, who call Georgia “home,” begin to receive back the results of their resident permits in the coming weeks, they will soon find out if they too are “bona fide” in the new eyes of the Georgian government.
At present it is not exactly clear why the Georgian government has opted to actively cancel its visa-free regime with 13 different countries whose citizens did not face visa restrictions before. If staying, working and investing in Georgia has been made more complicated and less attractive for the citizens of the 94 "visa-free" countries, then residents from the countries in the list to the left will have even greater difficulty staying in Georgia for even 30 days. Regardless of the Georgian government's intentions, this sends an unfortunate message to the residents and governments of those 13 countries. The Georgian government should not be surprised if in the coming months 13 more countries suddenly decide to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia...

List of countries whose visa free regime has been cancelled on September 1, 2014

1. Trinidad and Tobago
2. Chile
3. Saint Kitts and Nevis Federation
4. Uruguay
5. Iraq
6. Bolivia
7. Dominican Republic
8. Guatemala
9. Paraguay
10. Surinam
11. Cuba
12. Peru
13. Saint Lucia

Author: Will Cathcart
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