The Party's Over
04 September, 2014
Many people who visit Georgia want to stay. It's a fact. Of course most can't because they have lives in other places. But over the years as tourism increased particularly in the last ten years, it became very easy to visit Georgia, and very easy to stay. No permission was required from the state, visitors from wealthier countries only had to leave and come back once a year and they could stay as long as they wanted. And many did,
particularly from Europe and North America: Americans, Canadians, Brits, Germans, Poles. Most were young, would past through traveling or for some conference, job, or volunteer work. Others worked in Tbilisi, bought an apartment, and intended to retire here. Free lance journalists who want to be close to major world events. Georgia has good air connections, infrastructure, it's stable and tolerant, beautiful and has a great quality of life. And each of these residents would spend money and put it into the economy. They would have friends and relatives come visit because who doesn't want to visit Georgia? And they would chat about the greatness of Georgia on Facebook and get everybody else interested while destroying myths common among the uninformed that Georgia is a boring or dangerous Soviet style place.

All that happened, and Georgia's international reputation was being built step by step by all of these enthusiastic volunteer ambassadors because let us be clear, first of all Georgia is a great place. But also because it was so easy. These people have options, they are a very mobile highly educated intentional elite. Countries around the world want them to hang around and day by day other countries are making it simpler for these groups to stay and put money in their economies and build their international reputation.

But it is not so easy in Georgia anymore. Visa free travel has ended for twenty four countries. Even more importantly, people who want to live in Georgia now have to go through a heavily bureaucratic process to be granted a residence card. Some are denied. They most be married to a Georgian citizen or have job. Many of these people don't have jobs and didn't want them. They had money and simply wanted a base of operations or a place to live. The law and procedures designated are quite strict but sometimes not so clear. But some times it is difficult for Justice House to carry out these procedures. Different people give different information. It seems arbitrary.

The system before was unusually open and the EU encouraged Georgia to clarify its rules. But the new system is based on the rules of the EU with all its social services and jobs. These internationals are not in Georgia to get jobs. Many, maybe most, don't work. And these new rules can be very difficult to deal with. For example, foreigners names have to be written in Georgian of course. But this can be done in many ways, and each notary will do it in a different way. So each document will a different spelling for one person's name. People are told at the Justice House that they need to get all new documents and notaries refuse. Why not just say anybody with a passport from certain wealthy countries can come in and fill out a form and get a residence card after an approved waiting period? Why all the paperwork?

Requiring a residence permit of foreign residents is not the biggest of Georgia's problems but it is reasonable thing to require. But if internationals are welcome, many feel like the process would have been made simpler and easier. Is Georgia returning to greater bureaucracy in general or is it signaling to internationals that they can visit but shouldn't stay too long?

A few weeks ago, a citizen of Canada was told at the airport she had to have a return ticket to enter Georgia and was told she would be deported. This is a new rule and has never happened before. Why now? Why not let visitors buy tickets inside Georgia? It will be important to see the trend here but right now the talk on Facebook among internationals is more about the burdens of Georgian bureaucracy than the glories of Georgian wine, architecture, hospitality and khajapuri.

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