Parliament passed on November 12 with first reading amendments to the law on status of aliens, which, according to government officials, address “shortcomings” of new visa and migration regulations, which went into force in September and which caused difficulties for many foreigners residing in Georgia for which PM Irakli Garibashvili had to “apologize” last month saying that it was “not done deliberately.”
Deputy Justice Minister Alexander Baramidze told lawmakers on November 12 that although foreign citizens residing in Georgia had five months – a period between adoption of the law in March and its enforcement in September – to “put their status in compliance” with the new regulations, “not all of them, as it seems, were able to do that.”
“As a result there are now about 2,000 foreign citizens in the country, who are facing a real threat of being expelled from Georgia,” the Deputy Justice Minister said. “So in order to give these people a grace period on the one hand and on the other hand to rectify several shortcomings revealed in the process of putting these new regulations into practice, we have decided to develop these changes in the law.”
Although Georgia keeps visa-free rules with 104 countries and territories, down from 117, citizens from those countries are able to stay in Georgia starting from September 1 for a maximum of 90 days without visa, instead of previous 360. Under the new rules a long-term visa can only be obtained at Georgia’s diplomatic missions abroad, not in Georgia itself; long-term visa is also a precondition for obtaining residence permit. There have also been numerous complaints about burdensome, ill-planned, and ambiguous procedures and bureaucratic barriers for obtaining residence permits.
After the proposed amendments go into force, following approval by the Parliament with second and third hearings, a foreign citizen, who is already in Georgia on a legal basis, can apply for a long-term immigration visa to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Georgia, no longer requiring going back to a home country to file an application with the Georgian diplomatic mission; an application should be filed with the Georgian MFA 45 days before expiration of valid visa; visa application fee will be set at GEL 100.
A foreign citizen, whose residence permit has already expired or who has entered into Georgia after March 17, 2014, can apply to the Public Service Development Agency for residence permit before March 1, 2015. If in this case a foreign citizen obtains a residence permit, this person will not be subject to a financial penalty, according to the amendment.
Those foreign citizens, who fall under the category of Georgian “compatriots” as defined by the law passed in 2011, will be eligible to obtain a long-term Georgian resident permits, according to the amendments. This amendment allows those individuals, who were Georgian citizens, but lost it because of obtaining citizenship of another country, to apply for a status of “compatriot” to then become eligible for a long-term residence permit in Georgia. For example, when Armenian parliament speaker Galust Sahakyan visited Georgia in October, he raised the issue of those ethnic Armenians who are originally from Javakheti region, but are no longer Georgian citizens, and who have faced difficulties in their usual frequent visits of relatives or staying for a long term in their family homes in Georgia after the new visa and migration regulations went into force.
During debates in Parliament on November 12, opposition lawmakers from UNM party said that the proposed amendments were demonstrating that new rules, which represent sharp turnaround from liberal migration and visa regulations pursued by UNM when it was in the government, was damaging country, in particular its economy and investment climate.
But the Deputy Justice Minister reiterated that the new rules were required for imposing migration regulations, which was needed for Georgia’s ongoing visa liberalization dialogue with the European Union. The EU said in late October that Georgia met first-phase requirements in its visa liberalisation dialogue, paving the way for the launch of the second phase.
“I can imagine your reaction if we had not completed the first phase,” Deputy Justice Minister Baramidze told UNM lawmakers.