TBILISI, DFWatch – Vakhtang Nadibaidze (53) stands in line in front of the Polish embassy, waiting for the answer to his visa application. Many Georgians have been in his place, facing the labyrinth it is to get a visa at the European embassies here.
He remembers how about one year ago, the Czech embassy refused him a visa, as he was on the list of the winners of science conference and had to make a speech in front of an international audience about a book he had been working on for years.
“I received some document form of refusal with an unclear explanation that I was refused a visa. So I stayed, I didn’t have time to appeal. It was just for several days,” he says.
Vakhtang is now going to Poland to visit his son, who lives there together with his family. He remembers visiting Eastern European countries many times during the Soviet Union. But now, he says, it’s difficult; at least when it comes to the Czech Republic. He seems a bit angry while talking about the Czech embassy.
Georgian citizens are running into a range of problems in their dealings with foreign embassies in their country. Liberal Academy Tbilisi conducts monitoring in Georgia about visa facilitation before and after establishing a simplified visa regime with EU countries.
The Academy June 2011 published an interim report about visa facilitation, readmission and visa perspectives in the country. The report presents different problems, including visa refusals and other problems connected with this process.
The number of visas issued from 2007 to 2009 is about the same; 55 042 and 51 198. But the number of rejected visa applications has increased: 6 659 in 2007 and 10 620 in 2009.
According to the report, the embassies usually give a standard form of refusal to Georgian citizens. By agreement between Georgia and EU, embassies are obliged to give the applicant a document which clearly indicates the reasons for the refusal. In addition, citizens have a right to appeal the visa refusal.
“It turns out that this form of explanation provided by the embassy doesn’t satisfy citizens or they do not agree with the arguments; however they are less thinking about appealing,” the report says.
This is what Elene 21, tells DF Watch. She was planning to go to the Czech Republic too; with a youth program. She had gathered all necessary documents; she stood in line for 6 hours in the cold morning of February, 2011.
“Invitation letter, document for my apartment in Pilzen, documents in Georgia and you should have seen the document from the Czech Republic’s border police all in bright silver stamps and watermark. But no, this wasn’t enough.”
Her application was rejected. After receiving the rejection letter from the embassy, she appealed, but still received the same answer: her documents weren’t trustworthy or her short interview with a person at the embassy was unsuccessful.
“And it was in Russian. This guy was talking in Russian. I became nervous and maybe said something stupid, I don’t know,” Elene says. She is now studying at Tbilisi State University, taking her fourth course.
But visa refusals aren’t the only problem which may arise for Georgian citizens. Khatia Ergemlidzde was in Poland recently through the exchange program AIESEC. She says she had problems before she received her visa.
“I registered for a visa one month before November 3, when my project was starting. They scheduled my visit for application for November 2, great,” she remembers that her friend also leaving for Poland registered a week ago and they gave her a visa in a couple of days.
You have to present flight tickets or at least some proof of having booked tickets. As she knew how easily her friend received her visa, she bought tickets for November 1, then this story with registering; she tried to contact the embassy to explain the situation, but they refused to change the date.
“I went there on November 2. I paid a fine for the bought tickets – 100 dollars, can you imagine? And they told me to come for the answer in ten days.”
Her project in Poland lasted eight weeks; she lost two weeks because of the visa problem.
“I arrived there for my answer in ten days. My visa wasn’t ready. They told me that probably the consul forgot to check your passport. I waited for an hour. Then the consul came and prepared my visa in fifteen minutes. But in the end I lost fourteen days.”
The report describes different technical problems at the embassies. For example personnel in some cases do not speak in Georgian; Embassies have different lists of required documents; there is not enough information on their webpages about the process of getting a visa and people aren’t well-informed.
Margo (22) knew she was leaving five months before. She prepared the documents, filled in the application and headed for the embassy with all her documents ready. She leaves for nine months. That became grounds for her problems. She filled in an application for a Schengen visa, but what she needed was a category D visa, which includes a temporary residency permit.
“I had to leave at the beginning of March. But because of this, I had to re-register for a visa, with a new application and some other documents. Now I’m leaving one month later, on the 30.”
She received a 90-day visa, despite the fact she was asking for a 180-day visa, and she will have to take care about her temporary stay in Poland after 90 days.
A new agreement about simplified visa facilitation and readmission between Georgia and the EU came into force on March 1, 2011. It changed the general picture of the problems, including reducing the visa fee from 60 Euro to 35 in most cases, and it became entirely free for certain groups, like students and pupils, journalists, pensioners and others. The term for answering an application was also reduced from one month to ten days.
There are fourteen EU countries with an embassy in Georgia: Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Consulates of ten more countries have their offices in one of those fourteen embassies: Spain, Portugal, Finland, Denmark, Malta, Sweden, Hungary, Belgium, Luxembourg and Slovenia.
Visas for Austria, Slovakia, Ireland and Cyprus are available abroad.
Monday the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili criticized the personnel at foreign embassies in Georgia
“Just go to any foreign embassy in the center of Tbilisi to receive a visa and see how they treat people who go there; including foreigners, by the way, and their Georgian employees too. Why do they treat them like that? They think they are your boss and can humiliate you, watch you from the top, humiliate you and take pleasure this way. It happens so in many countries. It happens in our embassies, foreign embassies, including developed European country embassies,” the president said while visiting Tbilisi information center, and drew parallels between the embassy staff and old bureaucratic state apparatus.