Parliament adopted with its first reading on December 13 draft law on legal status of foreigners and stateless persons, reversing, as deputy interior minister put it, “overly liberal” migration policy, which was pursued by the previous authorities.
Levan Izoria, the deputy interior minister, told lawmakers on December 13 that the goal of the bill is to “regulate” and create legal framework for “effective” migration management, as well as to pursue practices which will help to implement visa liberalisation action plan with the EU.
Citizens of more than 100 countries and territories are now able to enter into Georgia and stay in the country without visa for 360 days. Georgian citizens, those holding ordinary passports, can travel without visa to eleven countries – mainly CIS-member states (except of Russia and Turkmenistan), as well as Turkey and Iran. Georgia signed bilateral visa-free travel agreement, which has yet to go into force, with Israel last month.
Currently list of countries, whose citizens can enter into Georgia without visa, is defined by the existing law on legal status of foreign citizens.
The proposed bill, which will replace the existing law, will instruct the government to draw up within three months the list of the countries, whose citizens will not require visas. The government officials have already indicated that the number of such countries will be reduced.
Citizens of those countries with whom Georgia will keep visa-free rules, will be able to stay in the country without visa for maximum of 90 days, instead of current 360.
Currently Georgian visas are available either upon entry into the country on the border or at the Georgian diplomatic missions abroad; those foreigners, who are already in the country and are willing to obtain new visa or to extend existing one, have to apply to the state service development agency at the Ministry of Justice.
The new bill will make it possible to obtain Georgian visas only at the diplomatic missions, which will cost USD 50. But the draft also says that in “special cases” visas can be issued at the entry points; these “special cases” should be defined by a government decree.
The bill also sets measures for handling irregular migration.
The new law on police, which was passed by the Parliament in October and which will go into force from January, authorizes patrol police to identify and inspect foreigners with the purpose of finding out if their stay in the country is legal. The Interior Ministry, according to the proposed bill, will be in charge of carrying out expulsion procedures if a person in question is irregular migrant.
Deputy Interior Minister Levan Izoria told lawmakers during the parliamentary session on December 13 that by analyzing data of entries into Georgia from only one country, combined with research of other relevant data, it was possible to establish that currently there are 7,974 “illegal” migrants in Georgia who entered from that one particular country; he declined to specify the country in question.
Data about persons crossing the border, residence permits, visas and duration, foreigners in the country, expelled foreigners from the country, legal entities established by the foreigners and other information relevant to migration issues will be gathered in the unified data base, which is expected to be fully operational from next year.
Izoria said that information from this unified migration analytical system will be shared with the patrol police, which will help them to identify irregular migrants.
It is up to the Interior Ministry to take decision about expulsion of an illegal migrant, but the court will have the final say if the Interior Ministry cites “threat to the country’s security and public order” as a reason behind its decision to expel a foreign citizen.
In case of a decision on expulsion, a person in question will be fined and given maximum of 30 days to leave the country voluntarily. Decision on expulsion can be appealed. A foreign citizen subject to expulsion will be banned from entry into Georgia for a period from two to five years. Illegal stay for up to three months in Georgia will be subject to financial penalty in the amount of GEL 180 and for more than three months – GEL 360.
It will be up to the court to decide whether to place a person in question in a temporary accommodation center pending expulsion or not. According to officials opening of the temporary accommodation center is expected by July, 2014. The bill also envisages alternative measures, such as showing up at the police station twice in a week or release on bail of no more than GEL 2,000. Expulsion should be postponed if the process poses threat to person’s health or safety, according to the bill.
The bill also changes criteria for issuing residence permits. Foreign nationals, who previously were Georgian citizens, will no longer be eligible to permanent residence permits; instead six-year residence permit will be available for them. Types of residence permits are: working; education; family, as well as "special residence permit" which will be available for those foreign citizens who might be a victim of trafficking. Spouse, children and parents of a Georgian citizen will be eligible to permanent residence permits; the same will apply to those foreigners who have lived in Georgia based on temporary residence permit for past six years.
The bill also introduces “investment residence permit”, which will be available to foreign citizens and their family members, who will invest at least GEL 300,000 (about USD 175,000) in Georgia.