Georgian Government changes immigration Policy

Wednesday, November 20

Georgian government comes to a conclusion to tighten its visa regime and its immigration policy. Former government of Georgia and President Mikheil Saakashvili were promoting visa free regime with 118 countries. According to current regulations, visitors from 118 countries can enter Georgia and stay in the country for up to 360 days, without obtaining a Georgian visa. Citizens of other countries, who require visa to enter the country, are usually able to get the document at the border.  The immigration policy of the former government was strictly criticized in many cases. While the visa-free policy promoted tourism in the country, it also helped to increase number of social migrants from Asian and African countries. Also, in some cases, Georgia appeared to be a transit country for international human and drug trafficking as well.  According to the planned amendments, the law will not list the countries the citizens of which can travel to Georgia visa-free. Alternatively, a list will be established through a government decree. The draft offers short-term visas to be issued according to the number of days pointed out by the visitor in the visa application form. However, the number of days indicated in the application cannot exceed 30 days. Those who have obtained a Georgian visa previously will be able to apply for multiple-entry visa, which will be valid for 90 days. The long-term visa will serve for foreigners as a precondition to receive residence permit in Georgia.  The initiative also offers two types of visas: short-term and long-term, and introduces an alternative visa classification: a special visa category will substitute the work visa and a new, immigration visa category will be added to the Georgian visa categories.  Georgia's diplomatic representations and Consulates, and the Patrol Police Department of the Georgian Interior Ministry at the border, are currently authorized to issue Georgian visas. According to the draft, only Georgian diplomatic representations and the consulates will maintain the right to issue visas to foreigners. The Interior Ministry will be able to issue the document at the border only in specific cases. Also, in the case the amendments are approved and adopted by the Parliament, Georgian Justice Ministry's State Services Agency will lose the right to extend the expiry dates of the visas of the foreigners living in Georgia.  A revised version of the Draft Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners and the Persons, was drafted by the Governmental Commission working on migration issues and it offers detailed instructions on grounds and procedures for expelling foreigners from Georgia. It also lists the grounds for staying in Georgia for foreigners and visa issuing related procedures.  The initiative to tighten immigration policy has caused various reactions. Some experts think that the geo-political location of the country should be considered first-of all. Georgia is a Euro-Asian corridor, hence, a transit line and a very attractive place for international crime. Experts also note that the security of the country should be a priority and immigration policy should not be only focused on increasing the number of tourists and making travel to Georgia as easy as possible.  Political analyst, Nika Chitadze told newspaper Resonansi, that government’s initiative may appear to be harmful to state interests. "Many citizens from Africa and Asia (from India, Nigeria) arrive in Georgia to receive higher education and now they will face some problems," Chitadze said. He believes foreign students should not have problems with obtaining or with extending Georgian visas.  The draft was prepared and submitted it to the Parliament of Georgia by the Governmental Commission working on migration issues. According to the commission it became necessary to revise the immigration policy due to unregulated immigration processes that took place in the country. The commission also points out the importance to establish a competent institution to control the legal entrance and living of foreigners in Georgia.