"US visa policy is transparent" - US Ambassador to Georgia in response to head of ruling party
Degnan responds to Kobakhidze
US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan responded to the statement of the chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Irakli Kobakhidze, regarding the allegedly biased visa policy towards Georgian citizens. The rules for obtaining visas are absolutely transparent, Degnan said.
On May 17, the chairman of the Georgian Dream stated that if Kelly Degnan believes that “direct flights with Russia and visa-free travel lead to rapprochement with the country, then why does this not happen between Georgia and the United States.”
Kobakhidze cited the case of the Martve ensemble, which was supposed to leave for the United States in July, but the US embassy set a deadline for issuing visas until November. And the artists never left. “Therefore, it is better for the ambassador to deal with such issues. And not by what steps and what country is taking for itself,” Kobakhidze said.
According to him, the American ambassador should take steps to simplify the visa regime.
“Unfortunately, the Imedi TV channel chose to disseminate false information on this matter. I will say that every year thousands of Georgians go to America. We also have cultural and educational exchange programs and other programs that bring Georgians to the United States of America. For example, last month 30 ballet dancers received visas to participate in a US production. Last week, dancers and singers were issued visas to travel to America to attend an Independence Day event. There are certain rules for obtaining a visa, they are transparent and are on our website. We also give recommendations on how to speed up this process. But it is important to follow the rules that are necessary to obtain a visa,” Degnan said.
The Ambassador also touched upon the issue of resuming direct flights between Russia and Georgia. A country under occupation, 20 percent of whose territory is occupied by Russia, and eight citizens of which are detained by Russian troops in South Ossetia, where they are under constant pressure from the Russian military, should be extremely careful when making such decisions, Degnan said:
“I see that Russia is trying to normalize relations with Georgia. I think the important question is why? Why is Russia now making this concession and offering something like this? How much will the restoration of direct air communication with Russia, the abolition of the visa regime and the restoration of the railway, which will connect Georgia with Russia through Abkhazia, cost? We all know that Putin does nothing for nothing.”
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On May 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a document on the abolition of the visa regime for citizens of Georgia and the resumption of direct flights between Russia and Georgia.
An exception to the visa-free regime is “citizens entering the Russian Federation for work or for a period of more than 90 days, including for the purpose of obtaining education.”
The visa regime between Russia and Georgia has been operating unilaterally since 2000, and direct flights have been discontinued since July 2019.