"If it weren't for the visa-free policy with the EU, there would be less migration" - Irakli Kobakhidze
Kobakhidze on visa-free policy
The main reason for emigration from Georgia is not poverty and unemployment, as experts say, but the introduction of a visa-free policy for Georgians by the European Union, chairman of the Georgian Dream party, Irakli Kobakhidze, says.
“If it were not for the visa-free poliucy with the European Union, we can say with confidence that in 2018-2021 Georgia would have had so many people leave,” Kobakhidze asserted.
In his view demographic trends in Georgia require serious attention, but the topic is dominated by speculative and exaggerated statements that require a proper response.
“When an economically strong country simplifies the visa poliucy for residents of an economically weaker country, naturally this fact contributes to the outflow of the population,” Kobakhidze said.
In a Facebook post, Kobakhidze cites Lithuania and Latvia as examples:
“After joining the European Union and the introduction of a visa-free policy, the population of Lithuania decreased by 600,000 – from 3.4 to 2.8 million, and in Latvia by 400,000 – from 2.3 to 1.9 million. The vast majority of Lithuanians and Latvians who left the country were young people.”
Kobakhidze also mentioned the US visa policy and notes that it is stricter for Georgian citizens than for Russian citizens:
“In 2021, the US approved 71% of visa applications for Russian citizens and only 37% of visa applications for Georgian citizens.”
“This circumstance creates inconvenience for the citizens of Georgia, including forcing some to take risks and move to the United States through Mexico,” Kobakhidze wrote.
Talking about the reasons for migration, Kobakhidze does not mention unemployment, poverty and high inflation in the country.
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Economist Beso Namchavadze, an expert at Transparency International-Georgia, calls Kobakhidze’s statement an “anti-Western message”.
“Kobakhidze is manipulating numbers. He chose such countries – Latvia and Lithuania – whose population has decreased the most since joining the European Union. But he said nothing about their neighbor Estonia, whose population has decreased quite a bit since joining the EU. And the population of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia, on the contrary, increased after joining the European Union.
Theoretically, Kobakhidze is right that ‘when an economically strong country simplifies the visa regime for residents of an economically weaker country, naturally this fact contributes to the outflow of the population.’ However, either he doesn’t know, or he is again lying to voters when he doesn’t tell them that rapprochement with the European Union and eventual accession opens up great prospects for the country, which may, on the contrary, slow migration down.
The same thing happened in Latvia and Lithuania – until 2004 (Latvia and Lithuania became members of the European Union in 2004), many more people left these countries every year than after joining the EU. The European Union did not speed up migration, but, on the contrary, slowed it dow,” Namchavadze asserts.
According to him, the decline in population and the negative balance of migration have many reasons, and “if you explain it with one reason, you are already manipulating.”
“The main reason for emigration from Georgia is poverty, lack of legitimacy of prospects, violence, etc.,” he believes.
In his view joining Europe will not increase emigration from Georgia, but on the contrary will reduce it, because it will provide opportunities for security, protection of human rights and overcoming economic problems.
“If anything reduces (both numerically, and quantitatively, and morally) the population of Georgia, it is poverty and injustice! People enter the United States even without a visa, through the Mexican border, and there will be even more of them in the future,” Namchavadze intoned.