Georgian Facebook is celebrating visa-free access to Europe. However, there are some serious regulations one should closely observe if they want their travels to remain fun
The matter is now decided – Georgia citizens will be able to travel to Europe without a visa starting as soon as late March or early April, after the EU parliament approved the visa waiver by a vote of 553 to 66 yesterday, February 2.
Georgia is the first country in the South Caucasus to have been granted the waiver.
What took EU so long to approve the waiver?
Georgia had been waiting to be exempted since 2016.
The process had taken so long because the EU parliament had been busy developing the suspension mechanism, a scheme that allows re-introduction of visas should such a need emerge. The migration crisis in Europe had been cited as a cautionary tale during the debates.
One thing held against Georgia was that a large number of its citizens had sought refuge in Europe lately. So, in 2013 alone, 9,110 Georgians applied for a refugee status in different European countries, which was what Europeans saw as a sign of the state’s failure to ensure a decent life for its people.
Persistently urged by the EU to address the problem, Georgia adopted an anti-discrimination law last year that prohibits discriminatory action of any kind.
What is the suspension mechanism?
Put simply, the suspension means not all bridges have been burnt for Europe and it can discontinue the visa-free regime for Georgians any time once it finds they deserve it. So, this can happen if:
1) there is an increase in the number of illegal immigrants from Georgia;
2) the number of Georgians applying for refuge grows;
3) the Georgian authorities don’t cooperate with the EU to bring illegal migrants back home;
4) Georgian citizens create risk to public security and order in European countries they visit.
This is how the suspension mechanism works:
If an EU country finds at least one of the above circumstances to have taken place, it will report it to the European Commission and demand that the visa exemption be put on hold. The Commission will have a month to consider the matter, and a decision it will then make will take effect immediately. The suspension will be imposed for nine months at first, and, unless the given problem has been effectively addressed by the Georgian government, it will be extended by another 18 months.
Who can benefit from the visa waiver?
There is a video circulating on Georgian Internet that introduces Georgia citizens to the conditions and rules of the visa-free regime.
Georgians will be able to enter the Schengen zone visa-free for 90 days in any 180-day period. The exemption also extends to the four countries that are now seeking to join the zone – Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Croatia. They will also be free to move from one Schengen country to another.
Is it true that no supporting documents are needed for travel? No, it’s not true
Apart from the biometric passport, a traveller from Georgia may, when crossing the border, also be asked to present a travel insurance, a proof of financial solvency, a return ticket and a hotel booking confirmation. Having the documents when crossing over into the Schengen zone is not a requirement, however border control agents still retain the right to ask to see them. The difference against the previous regulations is that no visits to consulates will now be necessary. Bank statements and pay slips from an employer and some other documents a person used to have to submit to a consulate to support their visa application have now been scrapped too. Instead, a valid credit card may have to be shown to border control services as proof of one’s financial eligibility.
How will violations of visa-free regime be punished?
Georgian citizens who stay in the Schengen zone even a minute longer than the allowed 90 days will be deported to Georgia and put on a ‘black list’ with a five-year ban on visiting the zone.
Who is not eligible to benefit from the exemption?
The visa waiver does not apply if a Georgia citizen travels to Europe to work or study for long periods of time. In such cases, a visit to a consulate and a clearance of relevant application procedures will be necessary.
It does apply if a study stint is short (such as a two or three-week language learning course), or if the purpose of visiting is participation in a training workshop or a conference.
Statistically, Georgian citizens have had more difficulty obtaining EU entry visas than their counterparts in Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. So, 12 percent of all Georgian applicants were turned away in 2013, which was a slight improvement from the 13,3 percent in 2012 and 14,8% in 2011. Russia and Belarus have been among those least turned away from EU, their visa refusal rates standing at 1,2 and 0,9 percent, respectively.
As part of its visa liberalization plan, Georgia has passed scores of laws and amendments, including to the personal data protection, anti-trafficking, anti-corruption and other laws.