Most Georgians ‘Don’t Know” What Visa Liberalization Actually Means

The Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC) has published a survey about the attitude and awareness of Georgians of the expected visa liberalisation process.

The Caucasus Barometer Survey was held in October 2015, two months before the European Commission’s progressive report about Georgia’s Visa liberalization was announced. The survey highlighted that most Georgian’s do not have proper information and knowledge about the visa liberalization process, as 56% of interviewees answered “Don’t know” or “Don’t know what the visa liberalisation process is” (26% and 28%, respectively), with a small share refusing to answer the question.

To the question “Will successful completion of the visa liberalization process benefit ordinary people living in Georgia?” only 12% responded “No” while 32% answered they believed it would benefit ordinary Georgians, the survey reports. The findings showcased a major misunderstanding of what visa liberalization is and people’s expectation of working and living prospects in the Schengen zone. According to the survey, 42% of this group incorrectly thinks that visa liberalization will allow Georgian citizens who have already emigrated gain living and work permits in EU countries, without having to apply for additional residency documents.

With regards the technical part of the Visa Liberalization Process, only just over half (53%) of this group knows that only those Georgian citizens who possess biometric passports will be able to benefit from visa liberalization, with 28% answering “Don’t know.” Even fewer (45%) are aware that the conditions of the visa liberalization agreement will be effective only if the length of stay in EU countries does not exceed three months; this question resulted in the highest share (37% of the eligible group) answering “Don’t know.”

The survey highlighted that those living in Tbilisi have slightly better knowledge about visa liberalization with the EU compared to people living in the regions of the country. “The difference is not striking, and it cannot be claimed that the Tbilisi population is very well informed about specific aspects of visa liberalization,” the survey reads. “These findings strongly suggest that an awareness-raising campaign about what the visa liberalization process with the EU actually implies is crucial. A successful campaign will help to ensure that the population of Georgia has adequate expectations of it and makes informed migratory decisions to the EU countries once visa liberalization enters into force,” the survey concludes.

The visa liberalization agreement between Georgia and the EU was launched in June, 2012, and is expected to enter in force in summer 2016, allowing Georgian citizens holding biometric passports to enter and stay in Schengen area countries without a visa for up to 90 days in a 180-day period. In February 2013, the Visa Liberalization Action Plan (VLAP) was presented to Georgian authorities. The European Commission’s December 2015 progress report stated that “given the outcome of the continuous monitoring and reporting carried out since the launch of the EU-Georgia Visa Liberalization Dialogue, the Commission considers that Georgia meets all the benchmarks set in respect of the four blocks of the second phase of the VLAP.” Visa liberalization, however, in no way gives Georgians the right to work, study or become residents of Schengen area countries – for these purposes, a labor, study or immigration visa will be needed.

Tamar Svanidze

25 January 2016 21:33