Calls Increase for Visa Requirements for Russians

On 3 August a petition to enforce visa requirements for Russian and Belarussian citizens emerged in Georgia, which at this time (August 8, 15:00) has been signed by more than 19,000 Georgian citizens.

Georgia abolished visa requirements for Russians in 2012, although the latter kept them in place for Georgian citizens. At first, Russian citizens had permission to enter Georgia without a visa and stay for 90 days. Today, however, that time period has been extended to 1 year.

Call for Visa Requirements

This is not the first time that parts of the public have called to enforce a visa regime against Russian citizens. One of the last requests in this regard was made in February of this year after Russia invaded Ukraine, which was followed by an increased number of Russian visitors to Georgia.

“Due to the security risks of Georgia,” in order to prevent the “uncontrolled entry of citizens of occupying Russia” into the country, the Shame Movement was one of the first to demand visa requirements which has since been a part of the agenda for several opposition parties.

At the beginning of March, the Georgian Tourism Industry Alliance, which unites 29 associations, also called for visa requirements for Russians. “Due to the fact that mass migration from Russia has started not only of people persecuted for political reasons but also people who support the official government position in relation to the occupation of Georgia and the war in Ukraine, we believe that the state should regulate the flow of Russian citizens wishing to migrate to Georgia, specifically, it should immediately limit visa-free travel,” it stated.

For its part, the ruling Georgian Dream party addressed the subject of discriminatory treatment of Russian citizens by certain private companies and said, “the only thing that is planned to be tightened is the legislation against discrimination on the basis of ethnicity.”

The Opposition

The issue of establishing visa requirements for Russian citizens has been a relevant topic in the last few days.

Considering that “some of the Russian citizens coming to Georgia and/or already here are hostile to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia,” the European Georgia party called on the authorities to control the flow of Russian visitors as far back as mid-March. “It is the government’s responsibility to stop the mass entry of hostile citizens of a hostile state into Georgia in order to maintain civil peace and security,” the party declared.

European Georgia also explained that a large number of Russian citizens coming to Georgia are trying to bypass international sanctions imposed on Russia. “It’s unacceptable for Georgia to become a black hole for Russia and Russian citizens to evade sanctions,” the party added, emphasizing that “these measures can be implemented by restoring the visa regime, as well as by introducing separate, emergency measures.”

Ex-Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia’s For Georgia party emphasized on August 3 that taking into account the security challenges facing Georgia there is a need to reduce the one-year visa-free regime for citizens of the Russian Federation to 1-3 months. They stated that a significant number of Russian citizens settle in Georgia, buy real estate, and register businesses.

„Creating greenhouse conditions for citizens of an occupying country in the country being occupied by their nation including through political statements threatens the demographic stability of our ocuntry and increases threats to the country’s soveireignty in the long term,” stated the For Georgia party.

A day before on August 2, the Lelo for Georgia party came out with the initiative of establishing visa requirements for citizens of Russia and Belarus, and declared that “the flow of visitors from the occupying country is beyond all control.” “Relevant structures do not and are unable to control citizens entering our territory from the occupying country, the country is vulnerable to the challenges and threats that have critically increased against the background of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ongoing hostilities,” the party denoted.

Lelo also called to limit and control as much as possible the issue of land and other real estate acquisitions and residency rights for Russian citizens and those countries that are involved in the military conflict against Ukraine. The party also wants the process of Russian citizens registering businesses to be controlled as much as possible.

Roman Gotsiridze, from the United National Movement, and Giorgi Vashadze, of Strategy Aghmashenebeli, agreed with their colleague and also called for a review of the residency rights and visa regime process.

MP Gotsiridze believes that a temporary moratorium should be announced on the sale of real estate to Russian citizens. “It is enough to buy a one-room apartment and then you can stay for a whole year and then go to Armenia for one day and extend [the right to live] for another year… we actually settle people here,” he stated.

“If not a visa regime, it is [absolutely] necessary to manage the process with residency,” Vashadze said.

Ruling Party Position

In response to the calls for visa requirements to be instituted, ruling party chairperson Irakli kobakhidze stated that the visa policy with Russia was eased after the 2008 august Russia-Georgia war, and now it is “simply irrational” to revise it.

Also, on August 3, the Speaker of Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili explained that nothing has changed in the number of Russian visitors in recent years, and taking the years 2020-2021 as a comparison is “irrelevant” because “there was a pandemic and the movement in the world was completely different.”

„This is nothing new, there was this campaign in March as well, and we saw how far this campaign has taken us – it turned into a xenophobic campaign and into someone throwing a stone at a Russia citizen in the middle of Chavchavadze [Avenue],” he added.

On August 4, the Chairperson of the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament, Anri Okhanashvili, said the issue of instituting visa requirements with Russia serves the purpose of “destabilization” and the country “being engaged in the war.”

The Statistics

According to the data of the National Tourism Administration of Georgia, in the first six months of 2022, compared to the same period of 2019, 2.8 times fewer Russian visitors came from Russia.

Per the explanation of the civil society organization Transparency International – Georgia, since the pandemic sharply reduced tourism in 2020-2021, 2019 is a more suitable year for comparison to evaluate the growth rate of tourism.

For example, in January-June 2022, 247,149 Russian visitors came to Georgia, in 2021 – 43 847; 2020 – 183 135; 2019 – 691 587.

When it comes to annual indicators, a total of 212,979 Russian visitors entered Georgia in 2021, 2020 – 208 677; 2019 – 1 471 558; 2018 – 1 404 757; 2017 – 1 135 057.

TI – Georgia revealed in an August 3 study that 13,500 Russian companies are registered in Georgia, “half of which have been registered since the start of the Ukraine war.”

For example, in March, April, May, and June 2022, about 6,400 Russian companies (companies owned by legal entities or citizens of the Russian Federation) were registered in Georgia, which is 7 times more than the annual rate of 2021.

According to the research, 93% of registered companies since March are individual enterprises which indicates that a “part of Russian citizens moved to Georgia to live and business.”

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