Confusion continues to surround the new visa rules for foreigners but here is a comprehensive summary of the current law.
Parliament of Georgia adopted a new law on the Legal Status of Aliens and Stateless Persons on March 5, 2014. Immediately after it came into force, increasing numbers of foreign citizens affected by the amendments started to highlight gaps in the legislation and various issues with the law’s implementation.
Since the new visa law came into play, many amendments have left foreigners unaware of their obligations; causing them to potentially overstay their visa, being forced to return to their homeland to apply for a visa or not be allowed to return to Georgia (for an extended period) should they temporarily leave.
Georgia on the map. Photo by N.Alavidze
In a bid to remove confusion surrounding the law, local non-governmental organisation Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) released a comprehensive summary of the country’s new visa law and the current regulations.
Do I need a visa?
Immigration visas are issued to foreigners arriving in Georgia with the purpose of work or studying in one of the authorised educational institutions.
What if I’m a tourist?
Georgia has determined a list of countries where its citizens can enter Georgia without a visa for a short-term visit.
People in this situation can enter Georgia visa free for up to 90 days in any 180 day period. This change is based on the current practice in the EU, in particular within the Schengen area.
Tim Burford wrote Georgia Travel Guide and now travel writer from UK is working on the next edition of the book in Tbilisi. He said new Georgian visa rules are comfortable because you can spend 3 month in Georgia without visa if you are from the visa-free-country list. Photo by N.Alavidze/Agenda.ge
Check if your country is on the visa free list.
Further information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can be found here.
How can I obtain a visa?
Confusion surrounds whether a foreigner needs to return home to apply for a Georgian visa. The answer is no – not if a foreigner lawfully entered Georgia before March 17, 2014 and remained within the borders of Georgia.
People who wish to obtain an immigration visa to lengthen their stay in Georgia are not obliged to go back to the country of their citizenship and apply for a visa at Georgian consulates there. Instead, the new amendments stated people in this situation can apply for an immigration visa to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia.
Applications must be filed not later than 45 days before their lawful stay in Georgia expires.
Applying for an immigration visa
Foreigners who entered Georgia before March 17, 2014 can apply for an immigration visa, even after the period of their lawful stay in Georgia has expired, but no later than March 1, 2015.
In this case, the period of the foreigner’s unlawful stay in Georgia shall be deemed valid. The person shall not face penalties prescribed in Georgian legislation and they will not be removed from Georgia until a final decision on the issuance of an immigration visa has been made.
Photo by N.Alavidze/Agenda.ge
Applying for a residence permit
People who wish to apply for a residence permit should file their application at the Public Service Development Agency before March 1, 2015.
In this case, a person cannot be deported from Georgia until the final decision on their application has been made, even if the person has no documents to prove his/her lawful stay in Georgia.
However people who have been denied a residence permit cannot benefit from the now simplified procedures.
IDFI concerns with visa law
The IDFI had a few concerns regarding the new visa law.
Firstly, it was concerned by the fact people had been denied residence permits without being told why or the reason being substantiated.
"The denial was usually explained by the fact that an alien constituted danger for the security of Georgia, without giving any evidence that would prove this concern,” IDFI said.
Secondly, IDFI was concerned about the issue of foreigners who were exempt from the scope of the new amendments – e.g those who entered Georgia after the new regulations came into force.
Tourists in Old Tbilisi. Photo by N.Alavidze/Agenda.ge
Another problematic issue was that society still had no information on the basis for the adoption of the Ordinance of the Government of Georgia on Approving the List of Countries Whose Citizens May Enter Georgia without a Visa, IDFI said.
On a final note, the IDFI said: "Overall we find that the new amendments to the law should be assessed positively. Moreover the fact that the Government of Georgia has reacted to the concerns highlighted by the aliens as well as by the CSOs should also be welcomed."