Georgia may lose visa-free regime with the EU

Georgia may lose visa-free regime with the EU

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili held a special meeting with the government to discuss dangerous situation around agreement on visa-free travel to the Schengen states. The agreement came into force in the end of March of last year, but several high-ranking officials of European countries, primarily Germany, called on the EU leadership to cancel or suspend it, explaining their position by the growth of crime and illegal emigration rate and excessive number of asylum seekers.

Georgian leadership immediately reacted to this demand - the visa-free regime with states of the Schengen zone remains the only real and tangible achievement of pro-Western course pursued by all authorities since 1992 for the country's citizens. If the government of Kvirikashvili loses "visa-free travel", such defeat will become a powerful argument for the opposition, especially for the former president Mikheil Saakashvili. He probably will accuse the ruling "Georgian Dream" party of being unable "to protect simple Georgians' dream to freely travel to Europe."

The reason for this problem is that too many Georgian citizens, who went to the Schengen zone states since the end of March last year, stayed in Europe for more than three months. Apparently, they illegally found job in European countries. Some of them were even caught for thievery and robbery.

Over the past year, law enforcement agencies of European countries have conducted a number of coordinated operations against criminal elements from Georgia, many of whom got into the EU thanks to the visa-free regime. Most illegalemigrants are working at the best of their capabilities, but they EU views any violation of its policy very seriously. According to the EU data, after the introduction of the visa-free regime, over 15,000 Georgian citizens didn't return to their homeland. It would seem that it's not a huge number, compared to the number of travelers from Georgia. But in reality this figure is simply catastrophic if we compare it not with the total number of travelers, but with the number of those who went to the EU after March 29, 2017.

The vast majority of Georgians, who entered the Schengen zone for the first time, taking advantage of new agreement on visa-free travel, remained there, and no one knows where they are. Of course, corresponging EU services catch them. But there's another problem - those who were caught say that they wanted to ask for asylum in the EU, but didn't have enough time or were afraid. Although the European states declared Georgia to be a safe country, the union's laws imply that it's necessary to carry out separate investigation of every case, which costs a lot of money. In other words, European politicians warn Tbilisi - if Georgia doesn't show activity or willingness to resolve this problem, the EU will take necessary measures, because under current agreement, it's possible to suspend visa-free regime in the event of increase in illegal migration rate.

How will the Georgian leadership react? The authorities can't detect who visits Europe for sightseeing and recreation or for illegal employment, especially when it comes to criminal groups. However, as Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani said, offenders will be punished - after deportation to their homeland they will be fined. "These sanctions should have a certain effect," she said. On the other hand, credibility of such measures is questionable. Most likely, relevant legislative norms will be adopted only formally, in order to convince European colleagues that Georgian side is taking at least some actions. In reality, Georgian diplomacy is making every effort to persuade Brussels to not take radical measures.

The only way for all sides to save face is to introduce pre-registration, when a person wishing to travel to the countries of the Schengen zone fills electronic application and pays for it (10 euros), attaching necessary documents to it (bank statement, certificate from work and so on). Then he waits for an answer, which should come within a few days. Such applications can be turned down, and then it's pointless to fly to Europe, since such people won't be allowed to cross the border.