GEO

Fixing the flawed immigration and visa reform: Attempt number four

03 April, 2015

 

Stricter visa regulations enacted on September 1, 2014 are a target of ongoing criticism. The new law on The Legal Status of Foreigners and Stateless Persons prepared by the Ministry of Justice imposed unjustified barriers on foreign nationals visiting Georgia for tourism, family reunification or employment. They have also affected the country’s investment environment. Due to these negative effects, the law has already been amended three times.

Transparency International Georgia has been closely following the reform and has often highlighted the problems that persist in the immigration policy. We outlined in detail the remaining most important problems that stem from the new Law and submitted specific recommendations to the government in 2014. However, only a few of them have been taken into account and a lot of problems in the county’s visa and immigration policy remain unresolved. TI Georgia submitted the parliament a legislative proposal a few months ago offering it an effective solution of the persisting problems. Our proposal is to be heard by the Committee on Foreign Affairs on March 30.

Importantly, on 13 March, following the submission of our proposal, the government registered in the parliament the fourth draft law on amendments to the Law on The Legal Status of Foreigners and Stateless Persons, which provides for a large part of our recommendations. The  review of the proposed amendment in the committees starts on March 27. TI Georgia appreciates the government's decision to considerably simplify unjustifiably strict visa regulations. This is definitely a step forward that is likely to make the country more appealing for tourism. We nevertheless think that the draft amendments will not be sufficient to fix the problems of the immigration policy and propose to change other norms of the law as well, those creating unreasonable barriers to foreigners wishing to visit or move to Georgia for work, study or family reunification. Specifically, if the Parliament approves the amendments as they are now proposed, the law will still contain the most problematic provision, under which "conclusion by an authorized agency on inexpediency of a person’s living in Georgia for securing the state and/or public security interests” may be grounds for refusing to grant residence permit. The misuse of this provision in the recent past has caused serious problems to foreign nationals, including investors, wishing to study, work or live in Georgia.

Below we are bringing a comparison of the current law and the initiatives proposed by the government and TI Georgia to highlight the challenges remaining unaddressed in the government's initiative.

 

Major changes

 

The substance of the amendment

The effective law

Our proposal

Government initiative

Definition of ‘invitation’

A written appeal of a Georgian citizen, a person with a residence permit or a registered legal person regarding the arrival as well as the purpose of arrival of a foreign national to Georgia

Provide a broader definition of the official document containing a written appeal confirming the purpose of arrival to Georgia of a foreign national

Issuing visas online

Foreign nationals can submit documents online to the visa issuing Georgian authority for receiving visas of any category. If necessary, the applicant might be invited for an interview by the visa issuing authority.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will issue electronic visas through a dedicated website. If necessary, the visa issuing authority might invite the applicant for an interview. Granting short-term visas within 2 days. The pertinent Government Decree shall define the categories of visas to be issued via the website.

Issuing visas in countries in which Georgia does not have diplomatic missions.

A visa may be issued by a third party country if there is no representative mission of Georgia in the country of citizenship of an applicant.

The possibility to get a visa in a third country

A foreign national in whose country of citizenship Georgia has a diplomatic mission and who is staying in a third country may apply for the Georgian visa at the Georgian diplomatic mission located in the host country provided he/she has a valid multiple-entry visa or residence permit in the country he is staying. The validity of the latter must exceed the term of the requested Georgian visa by 3 months.

A foreign national lawfully staying in a third country can apply for a Georgian visa at the diplomatic mission or consular post located in the host country.

For a foreign national to receive a visa in a third country it will not be a necessary condition that Georgia has a diplomatic mission in the applicant’s country of citizenship.

Ownership of real estate as grounds for obtaining visa / residence permit

A permanent residence permit shall be issued to a foreign national who has bought GEL 150, 000 worth of real estate in Georgia.

New, D5 visa: a foreign national who owns real property in Georgia (other than agricultural land) with its market value exceeding 35 000 US Dollars, as well as his/her family members shall be granted a visa to stay and carry out his/her activities in Georgia for a period of one year. Visas shall be granted within no more than 10 days after the submission of the application. A similar residence permit on the same grounds is also introduced for a term of one year.

Visa extension on the territory of Georgia

Only diplomatic and special visas can be extended in Georgia

It becomes possible to extend visas to those foreign nationals who hold student (D3) and real estate owner (D5) visas.

Additional possibility of visa-free entry into Georgia

The applicable visa requirements for foreign nationals who have a residence permit and live in a country whose citizens may enter Georgia without a visa shall be identical to the visa regime established for that country.

Foreign nationals who have residence permit and / or visa in a country listed in the relevant Georgian Government Decree can enter Georgia without a visa for the term and conditions specified in the above Decree.

Changing the residence permit types

The type of residence permit granted to a foreign national must correspond to the type of his/her visa.

A foreign national staying in Georgia who already has a residence permit can apply for another type of residence permit if he/she is meeting the relevant requirements.

Amendments proposed by TI Georgia and not provided for in the government initiative
 

The substance of the amendment

The effective law

Our proposal

Government Initiative

Grounds for the refusal of a residence permit

The grounds for the refusal of a residence permit - "There is a conclusion by an authorized agency on the inexpediency of his/her living in Georgia for securing the state and/or public security interests“

Repeal the above grounds

Upheld

The term for obtaining residence permit

The 30-day term from the application date can be reduced to up to 10 days through payment of an additional sum

10 days from the application date

Unchanged

The period of stay in the country

90 days within a 180-day period

The list of countries whose citizens shall be allowed to stay in Georgia for a period of up to 1 year to be determined by a pertinent Government Decree.

A new visa category (D5) designed for those wishing to own property in Georgia has been introduced; its holders shall be able to stay in the country for a term of up to 1 year

 
Author: TI Georgia