05 February, 2015
There is an old question that hangs over Georgia. Who should be here and what rights should they have? People can visit and will be treated better than anywhere in the world, but what if they want to stay? What if they want to get a job for a time or even not be visitors, but to put down roots? Is th
at good for Georgia? These questions are at the heart of the discussions about the Law on Labor Migration, a draft of which was written by the Ministry of Health and Labor and is now floating around parliamentary committees.

By making things difficult for the tiny number of foreigners working in Georgia, all the government will do will be to hurt Georgia’s excellent international reputation for hospitality.

Many people want to live and work in the richest countries, so these countries make it difficult with quotas and bureaucratic barriers. But still in most of the EU, 10 percent to 15 percent of the residents are foreign born. 15 percent of the population of the United States is foreign born, giving it the highest number of immigrants in the world, more than forty million. Many Muslim countries, particularly those that are near the Persian Gulf or that produce oil have over fifty percent immigrants. On the other hand, Japan is the third largest economy in the world but it sharply limits the number of immigrants, which make up only 2 percent of its population.
Georgia is on track to get visa free travel to the EU, which is a very big deal. No country in the world with income level as low as Georgia’s has that arrangement with the EU. It will be a great achievement and the government takes it very seriously. But the discussions related to this are not open to the public. As in any negotiation this is natural, but it means that the government has gotten in the habit of saying things they are doing and laws they are passing are connected with this process. But nobody can really check.
The EU is of course silent on these matters, since all of these are Georgia’s decisions. The EU doesn’t say, “If you want visa free travel, you must do this.” They just give out ideas, say which EU members are worried about what, and some general guidance. The Georgian government and parliament decide what they will do.
Certainly in the past the laws regulating movement to Georgia were not well organized and had some problems but the recent laws passed to address those problems substantially increased the number of countries that require visas to come to Georgia and the volume of bureaucracy required for internationals to live in Georgia. And the government has had great difficulty implementing the bureaucratic processes it created in such a way that is fair and efficient. Now the draft Law on Labor Migration creates an even newer bureaucratic process for foreigners to work in Georgia involving a different ministry. And for what purpose?
There are two views prevalent among lawmakers that are unfortunate. The first is they look at the strict labor restrictions of EU countries and other very wealthy countries and either think, “Well, if they will punish Georgians by making it difficult for us to work there, we will punish them by making it difficult for them to work here.” This is stupid. Or they think that since this is how the EU and other groups of successful countries have strict labor controls, then Georgia should too. This is a big mistake. The EU has thousands of people from Africa and the Muslim world trying to enter for work or safety just as the US has millions of people from Latin America and the Caribbean trying to get there to work. There is not a danger of huge numbers of foreigners moving to Georgia in this way because there isn’t that much work and the salaries aren’t that high yet.
The real question is what is best for Georgia?
Most foreigners who work in Georgia bring in more money than they take out. If they are regulated by this law, they are making fairly low salaries compared to their home countries, and may bring savings here to put into the economy. These funds are of great value to Georgia, and shouldn’t be stopped. By making things difficult for the tiny number of foreigners working in Georgia, all the government will do will be to hurt Georgia’s excellent international reputation for hospitality. Not one job will actually be saved or protected for Georgians. It will simply be one more bureaucratic hurdle that serves no purpose except to waste time and make Georgia appear backwards.
Some say if we don’t have this regulation, then what regulation should we have? Why does there need to be a regulation? The EU doesn’t require or recommend Georgia regulate migrant labor. It is simply not necessary. Why this need to put in more and more regulation? Particularly with the difficulty the government has in implementing them efficiently?
Japan has prevented immigrants from entering its country and in the last twenty years its economy has stagnated. The evidence is clear. Open countries that allow foreigners to come and go, to retire or work, to spend and save are the ones that prosper. Countries that set up bureaucratic hurdles for migrants and for their own citizens choke their own economy and drive internationals as well as their own citizens to look for opportunity elsewhere.