Gov’t Plans to Prevent Loss of Schengen Visa-Free Regime

Since the decision was made to allow Georgian passport holders freedom of movement within the Schengen Zone, there has been a growing number of crimes committed without punishment and numerous people seeking asylum. In order to prevent the so-called ‘visa suspension mechanism’ from being triggered as a consequence, the Georgian government has made plans to tighten the procedure for changing last names.

The bill, endorsed by the government on March 6, will mean citizens can only change their last name once, and it requires them to submit the request in person and to give sufficient reasons. Those who have changed their family name since March 28, 2017, and/or who were readmitted to Georgia, will be unable to change it again, according to the bill.

The restriction will not apply to name requests as a result of birth, child adoption, marriage and divorce.

The Ministry of Justice, which drafted the bill, said that the change would “prevent abuse of the visa-free regime by Georgian citizens,” and would “help identify individuals who committed crimes.”

They added that “there have been cases when Georgian citizens committed crimes in EU countries but came back to Georgia, changed their last names easily and traveled back to the Schengen Zone with new identities.”

After a number of European countries, including Germany, Sweden and Iceland, expressed great concern over the increasing number of crimes committed by asylum seekers from Georgia, fears over the European Union suspending the visa-free regime were aroused. The Georgian government announced it would implement measures to combat this. Part of these measures is to strengthen police co-operation with Georgia’s European partners on fighting crime, and to run a nationwide campaign.

Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said during the Government meeting on March 6 that the new bill was part of a “complex plan” to tackle “the challenges and the problems” surrounding the visa free regime.

“We are tightening the regulations on name change. We are doing our best to avoid triggering the visa suspension mechanism, and this change is not the only step that we will take,” he added.

On the same day, Interior and Foreign Ministry met with Head of the Migrant Law Division at Germany’s Interior Ministry, Christian Klos, and Annett Gunther, the Commissioner for Refugees and Migration at the Federal Foreign Office. During the meetings, the German Embassy to Georgia said the government was “greatly concerned” about the ever-increasing number of applications for asylum from Georgian citizens. The Embassy added that Berlin seeks to further strengthen its “already close cooperation” with Tbilisi on matters surrounding readmission. It also said that a citizen would be banned from entering the Schengen Zone for several years if their application for asylum was rejected.

Tom Day

08 March 2018 15:39