TBILISI, DFWatch–Georgia’s new immigration law has created a lot of problems for foreigners who already live, study or work in the country.

People DF Watch spoke to say their applications are being rejected for unclear reasons. They also question why it is required to file applications for long-term visa outside of Georgia, even if the applicant already has a visa and is applying for a renewal.

Although a lot of foreign citizens had their paperwork done without any major obstacles, some stories are far from successful, especially when it comes to people not from the EU or North America.

For example, an American-Iraqi married couple who have been living in Tbilisi for the last year and a half, running a business here, applied for a temporary residence permit with identical documents, as they both are shareholders in their company. However, E. (an American citizen) writes in public Facebook groups that she got a five year residence permit, but her husband, who is a citizen of Iraq, got his application rejected.

Problems for Armenians

Out of nine new students at the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University (ISET), two Armenian citizens had their applications rejected and now have to break off their studies and return to their home country.

Moreover, one of the faculty members, who also has Armenian citizenship, was also rejected on the basis that she is a threat to national security. She crossed the Georgian border before September 1, when the new immigration law came into force, so she can stay in Georgia for a year and continue teaching, but she can not leave the country as the next entrance will grant her only 90 days visa-free stay.

Even more Armenians were deprived of their permanent residency permits in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region. Allegedly, thousands Armenians there hold Russian or Armenian citizenships, which makes it easier for them to go to Russia for seasonal work. This issue was discussed during an official visit to Georgia this week by the head of the Armenian parliament Galust Sahakyan. Sahakyan asked Georgian PM Irakli Garibashvili to facilitate the issuing of permanent residency permit to Armenians who live in Georgia and hold citizenships of other countries.

Struggle with papers

R., a citizen of the Philippines, came to Georgia one of the last days of August, just before the change of law. She instantly applied for a one-year visa, so she would have enough time to deal with the relevant paperwork. But instead of a one-year visa extension, she was given just 90 days. At the moment, she is struggling to get her paper work done for her temporary residency permit. To get this she needs to change her visa status from tourist visa to work visa. R. was able to fill in the application for this online, however, as she got a shorter visa period than requested, her appointment with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs got scheduled just 3 days before her tourist visa expires. This means that she might need to wait outside of the country for a decision about her work visa.

She is not the only Philippines citizen who is struggling with the new law. DF Watch was told that two teachers from the Philippines who are working at an international school got their residency permit applications rejected.

Rejected because of his race?

An American citizen D., also working as a teacher at a private school, had his application fo residency permit rejected because, he believes, his birth place is Ivory Coast.

He told DF Watch that he went to the Public Hall on Monday, September 29, to check his application status, as one month has had already passed since the application day. He was told that a decision has not been made, but it can be ready soon. “In five minutes the woman looks at me and asks, ‘are you a U.S. citizen?’ I answer – yes, I am. Then she says ‘But you were born in Africa?’ I said – yes, I was. Then she says ‘I suspect you are not going to get a residence card’. Just like that,” D. recounted his last visit to the Public Hall during which his application for residency permit was rejected on the spot, not hiding his bitterness.

However, just before publishing this article, DF Watch was informed that the decision got changed and D. was granted 5 years residency permit.

Georgia should be an open country

According to Erik Livny, director of ISET Policy Institute, by tightening its immigration policy Georgia is cutting its legs off. He argues that the liberal immigration policy Georgia had before allowed it to satisfy its needs for professionals by allowing them to come and work in the country without restrictions.

“Openness is a blessing for Georgia. The most industrious and entrepreneurial Georgians left the country in the 90s, and continue to leave. Thus, there is a demand and a lack of people in many different occupations, and the policy of open door was the solution to this problem. Now a signal has been send that Georgia is becoming less welcoming, and this is not something Georgia should do from a purely selfish economic point of view,” Livny explained.

He dismissed a nationalistic argument that ‘foreigners will take Georgians’ jobs’ as not  applicable in this case. In his opinion, a lot of Westerners, who come to Georgia with their expertise, take those places which otherwise would be left unfilled. Livny also pointed out, that foreigners come to invest and to create jobs here, in addition to paying taxes and supporting local economy with their spendings.

Problems with implementation

However, Livny stressed that the new immigration policy itself is not bad, but its implementation has a lot of flaws. In particular, he criticized the need to apply for a visa from outside of Georgia, even if a person has been already working and living in Georgia for a while, and also unspecified criteria for rejecting applications.

The requirement to apply for a long term visa from outside of Georgia seems overly complicated to Livny. He pointed out that the documents of visa applicants are sent to Georgia and the final decision is made inside the country. Hence there should be a possibility to apply straight from Georgia.

He continued by stating that the requirements for residency permit are minimal, thus people do not expect to get rejected on the basis of that little information which they provide about themselves. And as the real causes for rejection remain unspecified, it creates uncertainty which in itself will prevent foreign experts from coming to Georgia.

Changes are coming?

The government also acknowledged the faulty implementation of the new immigration law. PM Irakli Garibashvili apologized to foreign citizens who have faced problems regarding the new visa and immigration policy. He also stressed that these problems are related to the work process and should be eradicate over time.

The Public Service Development Agency informed DF Watch that the current law will undergo some changes in the near future. However, at this moment it is not clear what will be changed, and more information will be available in the coming days.

Current changes since September 1

  • Citizens of countries which Georgia has visa-free regime with, can stay 90 days out of 180 instead of previous 360 days;
  • Long-term visas are issued in Georgian diplomatic representations only and process takes 30 days. It is not possible to apply for a long-term visa in Georgia;
  • In order to get a temporary residency permit, an applicant has to present a valid long-term (study, work etc.) visa.