On September 1, 2014 the government of Georgia adopted a new law on “the legal status of the foreigners and the stateless people in Georgia”, changing the simplified visa regime, exercised from 2012 to 2014 that had contributed to the increased number of foreign visitors in the country and establishment of investment friendly environment. It also created favorable environment for foreign students to pursue their studies in Georgia, the number of which had increased on annual basis.
The new law requires foreigners to apply for the visa in a diplomatic mission and consular department of Georgia, instead of the previously exercised simplified procedures of visa issuance at the border, If Georgia doesn’t have diplomatic mission and a consular in the home country, a foreigner has to address the consulate in the nearest country for the VISA application. Moreover, a number of Visa-free regime countries have been reduced from 118 to 94. Georgia has visa regime with 29 countries, in 23 of which it doesn’t have the diplomatic mission and consular offices. The law also affected the duration of stay for foreigners in Georgia limiting it to 90 days out of 180 instead of 365, including for the citizens of the EU member states.
The introduction of stricter regulations of entry has caused widespread public discussions in Georgia and revealed number of complications for tourists, temporary residents, foreign businessmen and international students, including for the citizens of the EU member states.
One of the justifications voiced by the Government relates to the harmonization of the Georgian migration legislation with the EU regulations. Overall, for a country, which is in the process of implementing EU Association Agreement and aspiring to eventually join the EU, this is a valid argument. Though, there is no formal EU requirement for Georgia to apply Schengen type regulations to its migration policy. Moreover, the EU gives freedom to determine own migration policy to the states based on their economic, security and other interests. Considering that Georgia is in the visa liberalization process with the EU, which is based on the principle of reciprocity the decision to worsen conditions for the EU member states citizens, through limitation of the time of their stay in Georgia, is further questionable. There is also a mismatch in the lists of the countries with visa requirement of the Council Regulation (EC) 539/2001.
The next question would be how the changes correlate to Georgia’s economic interests. For Georgia tourist inflow represents one of the key declared economic goals. At the same time since Georgia is still in the process of establishment as a tourist destination, among other measures trough openness and simplified visa regulations. The enactment of the law may have negative effect on attracting foreign visitors as it reduces motivation to come. Since only 23 of 29 visa regime countries host consular representations of Georgia and visa no longer can be obtained at the border, we can assume that less will be willing to take costs and invest additional resources into traveling to another country in order to obtain visa and visit Georgia
The drop of Iraqi visitors constitutes a good example of negative implication caused by the new law. The law caused termination of increasing number of flights from Iraq to Georgia 16 flights a week. It’s rather difficult to grasp the rationale on introduction of visa regime with Iraq being among a top 10 largest tourist origin country.
There has been no evidence of criminal activities, illegal migrant transition or any other data implying security threats proposed by the government.
The new law also affected international students and employees who are required to leave the country and reapply for visa with the new regulations. In many cases they had to suspend their activities and suffer additional costs. The law didn’t envisage transitional period or exemptions for foreigners residing in Georgia which caused major outburst of dissatisfaction and forced government to start working on adjustments.
The new law is one of the demonstrations of political decisions taken without a comprehensive vision, coherent goals, clear calculations and impact analysis.