In the early 2015 Georgia amended its immigration law to comply with the European Union Association Agreement, and this meant that Armenians in Georgia who have taken dual citizenship may be stripped of the Georgian citizenship. Meanwhile, holding two passports, of Armenia and Russia, labor migrants could cross into Russia without a visa.
Currently, over 30 thousand people are deprived of the Georgian citizenship, official local sources inform. According to new visa requirements, they are foreign national persons and can now stay in Georgia for a total of 90 days within any six-month period, after which they must leave and return in three months.
The Georgian authorities say they are working to fix the problem and have delayed immigration law changes from January 1 to July 1, 2015. However, Armenians in Georgia say they still face the problems regarding this issue.
The Institute for War and Peace Reporting Armenia Branch, in cooperation with the Public Journalism Club’s Media Center, held a discussion on the new immigration law in Georgia and issues of the local Armenian community on April 20. The speakers included: Sergey Minasyan, Head of the Political Studies Department at the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute (Armenia); Johnny Melikyan, expert on Georgian affairs (Armenia); Arsen Kharatyan, expert on Georgian affairs; and Ruben Palyan, Head of Akhalkalaki Department of Public Service Development Agency, Ministry of Justice (Georgia).
It is the lack of awareness within the Armenian community, Ruben Palyan believes, which causes the main problems. “Many do not even know about their rights and obligations, or laws. Citizens do not know what possibilities the new law grants them,” he said. Over three thousand Armenians previously deprived of the Georgian citizenship have applied for permanent or temporary residence permits and got them.
Regardless the delay of the law enactment till July, those stripped of the citizenship are fined at the border, the Armenian community representatives claim. “Residence permits are given for them to continue living in Georgia and not crossing the border. After leaving the country, the rights cease having effect,” Palyan commented.
Meanwhile, people who have applied for residence permits and paid the fee but have been rejected due to document mismatch – based on the Georgian Foreign Minister’s order - can now file a second application without paying the fee. “The problem is resolved. We have issued pamphlets describing the new law requirements and rights to increase the public awareness among Armenians in Georgia,” Palyan said and added there are now only some technical problems left.
Johnny Melikyan believes poor Georgian language skills are a major concern for the Armenian community. A lot of Armenians in Tbilisi have applied for the Armenian citizenship without reading the point which fixes “Georgia does not have a citizenship agreement with Armenia.” “Armenians in Javakheti do not know Georgian and, thus, many of them are not aware of Georgian laws,” Melikyan said.
Arsen Kharatyan who is currently conducting research in Georgia said the bureaucracy causes problems. “Many Armenians in Georgia have two or three citizenships: Georgian, Armenian and Russian. And, as a result of immigration restrictions they got stripped of the Georgian citizenship,” the expert said.
Both sides chose not to politicize the issue, Sergey Minasyan said. “It is crucial the problems evoked by the law implementation are not politicized. Following the events in Abkhazia and Ossetia, Georgia became very sensible regarding the dual citizenship,” Minasyan noted.
Armenians have taken a second citizenship because of the social-economic issues, mainly to leave for Russia as labor migrants. Regardless the restrictions and dual citizenship ban, Armenians, however, continue applying for the Armenian citizenship.
“If a person has acquired or intends to acquire another citizenship, he should inform the corresponding authorities,” Palyan explained. The speaker did not comment on whether people with dual citizenship will lose the Georgian citizenship in that case.
Arsen Kharatyan added the issue is still on the agenda and remains unresolved. “That’s why citizens of Georgia with an Armenian passport cross the Georgia-Armenia border with a Georgian passport and travel to Russia with an Armenian one,” he said.
Arshaluys Mghdesyan, Editor-Coordinator
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