On 4 February 2015, during a session of the Parliament of Georgia, the Parliamentary Minority MP, Zurab Chilingarashvili, stated: "The Javakheti region has been in a difficult situation since the visa regulations were imposed. There are mixed families there. Some have Armenian passports, some have Russian passports and they are, in fact, required to cross the border every three months to get a new residence permit and then come back."FactCheck
took interest in the MP’s statement and verified its accuracy.The new Law
of Georgia on the Legal Status of Aliens and Stateless Persons was enacted on 1 September 2014. According to the Law, the period allowing residence in Georgia without a visa was decreased from 360 days to 90 days (with a 180-day interval). According to the new Law, visas are no longer issued by the Public Service Development Agency of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia. Instead, visas are issued by diplomatic representations or consulates of Georgia abroad. A foreigner who wants to travel to Georgia has to address the nearest diplomatic representation or consulate of Georgia if there is no such facility in his home country. The Law also abolished the practice of issuing visas on the state border of Georgia (except in special cases). After the changes, visas were divided into categories and new regulations were enacted for obtaining a residence permit. Visas and residence permits have become the main basis for the entrance and the activities of a foreigner in Georgia.
Further, the changes imposed by the new Law of Georgia on the Legal Status of Aliens and Stateless Persons requires an individual permanently residing on Georgian territory and involved in various types of work-related activities and with a family to undergo the following procedures in order to gain a residence permit: return to the country whose passport he possesses, apply for an appropriate visa at a diplomatic representation or consulate of Georgia therein and then await the answer (which could take up to 30 days). In the case when the visa is issued, the individual must then return to Georgia and apply for a residence permit.
The aforementioned regulations have complicated the possibilities of entrance and residence for both visitors and foreign citizens residing in Georgia. On 16 November 2014, the Parliament of Georgia made further amendments to the Law of Georgia on the Legal Status of Aliens and Stateless Persons, attempting to alleviate the strict regulations. It was decided that:
✔ The Georgian immigration visa can be issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia to foreigners legally inside Georgia. For this purpose, the foreigner must apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia not later than 45 days prior to the expiration of his legal basis enabling residence in Georgia. The change means that the foreigner will not be required to return to his home country to obtain a visa. The fee for issuing such a visa was set at GEL 100.
✔ A temporary preferential regime was established for gaining a residence permit for a certain category of foreigners residing in Georgia; namely, foreigners who were issued a residence permit before the enactment of the amendments or those entering Georgia after the enactment are free from the obligation of presenting a document proving the legal basis of their visit to Georgia until 1 March 2015.
✔ Foreigners who entered Georgia before 17 March 2014 and resided in Georgia at the moment of the enactment of the amendments are allowed to obtain an immigration visa in Georgia before 1 March 2015 after the expiration of the period of their legal residence except in the cases when they were refused a residence permit.
As we can see, the changes provide for the possibility for certain foreigners to obtain their immigration visas at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia and are not required to leave the country. However, these changes were only enacted on 14 November 2014 which means that a large number of foreign nationals were required to leave the country in the period from 1 September 2014 to 14 November 2014. In addition, a part of the amendments listed above was in effect until 1 March 2015 only. There is an on-going discussion about the extension of the period of these amendments.In his statement, the MP focuses upon the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, specifically. There are no separate statistical data about the impact of the aforementioned legislative changes upon this region. However, the fact that the problem in the Javakheti region is quite serious is confirmed by the recent developments and rising dissatisfaction in the region. In order to obtain more detailed information about this issue, FactCheck
interviewed the Representative of the Public Defender of Georgia in Samtskhe-Javakheti, Seda Melkumiani. According to her, a large number of the population of the Akhalkalaki Municipality has Armenian or Russian passports. According to the new regulation, they are required to either leave the country or apply to appropriate structures for a residence permit or citizenship. The problem therein is that these individuals receive ungrounded refusals from the Ministry of Justice of Georgia concerning the permanent residence permit and citizenship in the majority of cases. Ms Melkumiani also pointed out that the family unity principle is often violated because of this.Various articles published by open media sources also attest to the severity of these problems in the region. For example, on 2 February 2015, the Chairman of the public movement Multinational Georgia, Arnold Stepanian, stated in his interview
that after the imposition of the new regulations citizens of Armenia and Russia, residing in Samtskhe-Javakheti, have no legal right to stay in Georgia longer than 90 days. After the expiration of this period, they are forced to leave Georgia and live away from their families in another country for a 90-day period. Akhalkalaki Municipality MP, Samvel Petrosian, also commented upon the negative effects of the immigration policy and stated that the amendments to the Law of Georgia on the Legal Status of Aliens and Stateless Persons shows discrimination towards ethnic Armenians living in Samtskhe-Javakheti.
The new Law of Georgia on the Legal Status of Aliens and Stateless Persons was enacted on 1 September 2014. The aforementioned Law was later amended, providing for certain exceptions for obtaining a visa on the territory of Georgia. However, even these amendments were unable to improve the situation significantly.
To obtain a visa, a foreign national must address a diplomatic representation or consulate of Georgia. The fixed period of non-visa travel to Georgia has been reduced to 90 days. The period is calculated from the date of the first crossing of the border. If the foreigner fails to gain appropriate documents, he will be required to leave the country after 90 days and will not be able to return for another 90-day period. According to the old regulations, the visa-free residence of a foreigner was calculated after his most recent crossing of the Georgian border with this regulation being especially important for citizens of foreign countries residing in the country’s border regions. After the expiration of their residence period they merely had to cross the border and then were allowed to return to Georgia immediately.
The aforementioned regulations have caused considerable problems for the Samtskhe-Javakheti region where the majority of the population possesses passports of either Armenia or the Russian Federation.Based upon these facts, FactCheck concludes that Zurab Chilingarashvili’s statement is MOSTLY TRUE.