New Changes in the Law of Georgia on the Legal Status of Aliens and Stateless Persons
From May 12, 2021, new amendments to the Law of Georgia on the Legal Status of Aliens and Stateless Persons will come into force. Under the new regulations, the conditions for obtaining a residence permit for foreigners will be tightened further.
On February 4, 2021, the member of the Parliament of Georgia, Mikheil Sarjveladze, initiated a draft law of Georgia on Amendments to the Law of Georgia on the Legal Status of Aliens and Stateless Persons. The draft law passed all three parliamentary hearing sessions and was accordingly approved within two months. Below are the summary and review of major changes to the law:
- The definition of a family member has been specified in the law. According to the current law, the concept of "family member" (meaning a family member of a foreigner) includes, among others, an adult child. In this regard, the concept is narrowed and only a minor child will be considered a family member. Adult children are thus excluded from the scope of family members. This means, for example, that in case of a foreigner holding a residence permit, their adult children will no longer be able to obtain a residence permit for the family reunification.
- The amendments narrow the scope of "D5 category" visa. This type of visa is an immigrant visa issued to a foreigner on the basis of owning real estate in the territory of Georgia, the market value of which exceeds the equivalent of 100,000 USD. This type of visa could also be issued to family members of the property owner foreigner that already obtained a visa. However, as a result of the change, this type of visa will be granted not to any family member of the property owner foreigner, but only to the child and spouse. In particular, the "D5 category” visa can no longer be granted to the parents of a visa holder foreigner. Therefore, parents are excluded from the scope of "D5 category" visa.
Conditions regarding the general requirements for issuing a residence permit will be significantly tightened and their issuance will be much restricted. In particular:
- An asylum seeker will no longer be considered a person legally resident in Georgia for the purposes of issuing a residence permit in Georgia. Persons with the status of “asylum seeker” can no longer apply for a residence permit on the basis of their asylum seeker’s identification document. Consequently, until their application for asylum is being reviewed by relevant authority, they will be restricted from being able to apply for any type of residence permit.
- A foreigner who is present in Georgia on the basis of extension of legal stay (the postponement of the obligation to leave Georgia), i.e. whose ground for legal stay expired but an extension has been granted to stay, in such circumstance they will no longer be able to apply for any type of residence permit.
- Residence permit is no longer issued to persons entering Georgia on the basis of "C category” visa. In particular, a “C Category” visa is issued on a general basis, such as, tourism, visiting relatives and friends, holding business meetings and negotiations, participating in a conference, as well as for humanitarian purposes. The only exceptions will be investment residence permits, cases of victims of trafficking and victims of domestic violence. Thus, a foreigner who, for example, enters Georgia on a tourist visa will no longer be able to apply for a residence permit.
- Residence permits will no longer be issued to visa and/or residence permit holder foreigners of those specific countries defined by the decree (Decree N 256 of the Government of Georgia of June 5, 2015) of the Government of Georgian that are allowed to enter Georgia without a visa and stay in Georgia for any 180-day period for a period of 90 calendar days. Therefore, foreigners entering Georgia on such conditions will be restricted to apply for any type of residence permit.
- If a foreigner could obtain a permanent residence permit on the basis of legally residing in Georgia for 6 years (based on a temporary residence permit), after the changes in the law the foreigner will be able to do so in case of legally residing in Georgia for 10 years, instead of 6 years. In case of a permanent residence permit for the child of a foreign citizen married to a Georgian citizen, the notion of "child" has also been narrowed here and only a minor child is considered to be able to obtain permanent residence permit based on the marriage of their parents, one of whom is a Georgian citizen.
- The condition of obtaining a short-term residence permit, i.e. obtaining a residence permit on the basis of ownership of real estate in Georgia (property with a market price of USD 100,000) is also becoming strict. If currently the residence permit can be obtained by the family members of a property owner foreign citizen (their spouses, children, parents), due to amendment this will only be possible for the spouse and children. Thus, parents have been excluded here as well.
The amendments will also apply to the terms (time-frames) of the residence permits. In particular:
- In case of submitting the application for the first time for the residence permits for work, study and family reunification, as well as, special residence permit for victims of trafficking, it will be granted for only 6 months or 1 year at the beginning. Up until now, no such special deadline was set for the first time issuance of these types of residence permits. It only generally meant that such types of residence permits could be issued for a maximum of 6 years. This meant that for the first time case, it could be issued for a period of one year or more. Therefore, this rule will be restricted. However, as an exception, the law states that the mentioned type of temporary residence permits will be issued for a period of 5 years for first time scenarios in exceptional cases.
- According to the new regulation, the residence permit of a former citizen of Georgia for the first time basis will be issued for a 6-year term. And the residence permit of a stateless person, whose stateless status has been established in Georgia, for the first time case will be issued for 3-years term. The current version of the law does not regulate first time based issuance term. For the mentioned types of residence permits it was issued for a maximum of 6-year term as a general rule.
- A short-term residence permit, i.e. based on the ownership of real estate (property of 100 000 USD value) can be issued to a foreigner for 1 year and its term can be extended for only 1 year each time of re-applying. This particular rule regarding the extension of this type of residence permit has not been regulated by law so far.
- The validity period of temporary residence permits can be extended up to not more than 12 years. According to the current regulation, this term is set to 6 years. Therefore, it increases to 12 years by the amendment. Consequently, if after expiration of 6 years the foreigner had to apply for a permanent residence permit, because due to the expiration of the 6-year period the ground for extending the temporary residence permit no longer existed, it now will be possible to extend temporary residence permit for up to 12 years.
- The Public Services Development Agency, the authority responsible for granting residence permits and reviewing the applications, will be entitled to a new power to verify and check the information provided in the application documents by visiting the place, inspecting it and interviewing the relevant persons. This new authority given to the Agency is supposed to provide control to detect fictitious cases.
- The grounds for refusing a residence permit for a convicted foreigner for a criminal offense committed during the last 5 years are becoming tightened. According to the current regulation one of the grounds of refusing a residence permit is being convicted for aggravated crimes. By new amendments convicted persons for less aggravating crimes will also be denied a residence permit. In addition, a foreigner’s legal stay in Georgia will be terminated in case of having committed any kind of criminal offense in general.
- The decision of the authorized body on expulsion of a foreigner from Georgia also becomes a new ground for refusal of a residence permit. In case the competent body has made a decision to expel the foreigner from the country, the foreigner will no longer be able to get extension of legal stay in Georgia. This rule is also new and it did not exist in the law before the amendments.
Regulations are also being tightened regarding the postponement of the obligation to leave Georgia (extension of legal stay):
- According to the current regulation, if the foreigner’s legal ground for staying in the country has expired but he has a case at common Courts of Georgia and proceedings are taking place with the participation of the applicant, meaning that his presence in Georgia is essential for the protection of his interests, the foreigner may postpone the obligation to leave the country (by getting extension of legal stay). However, the new amendment stipulates that for such cases, the interested foreigner must submit an application to the Public Service Development Agency for extension of legal stay at least 14 calendar days before the expiration of his / her legal stay in Georgia. Up until now, no such rule existed regarding the application deadline for getting the extension in such cases. As for the cases where a foreigner's application for a residence permit is in the process of being reviewed by the Agency, in such a case, the Agency is given the power to provide the extension of legal stay on its own initiative for the applicant for the period of administrative proceedings of reviewing the application for residence. This means that in such cases the person directly concerned, the residence permit applicant will no longer be able to file an application on his own for requesting extension of legal stay.
It is noteworthy that residence permit procedures are becoming more and more tightened from year to year by the Government. Obtaining residence permits for foreigners from countries of African and Asian region has already been quite problematic so far, with high number of unreasonable denials, with non-transparent reviewing procedures and, in many cases, with the blanket referrals to the state security reasons for denials. For example, in 2020, the practice of unjustified denials to issue a residence permit was still maintained on a significantly high level. Out of a total of 2,018 unsatisfied applications, 1,907 (or 94%) were based on state security reasons. The negative conclusion of the State Security Service and the refusal of residence permits based on state security motives has been used by the State as a means to artificially restrict the flow of migrants from the "undesired" countries for the past years. This has been the indication of a discriminatory state policy. It must be assumed that another wave of new amendments brought to the law now is mainly directed to creating even more obstacles for the foreigners, and especially from the countries of Africa and Asia.