Tbilisi—With its third anniversary approaching, an EU-Georgia visa liberalization agreement has let half a million Georgians access visa-free travel to the Schengen Zone, participants at an International Organization for Migration conference learned this week.
The EU-Georgia scheme has been hailed as a resounding success, but it has been accompanied by a sharp increase in the number of asylum claims lodged by citizens of Georgia, from 12,600 in 2017 to over 20,000 a year later. Projections for 2019 are that the figure will exceed 21,000. The approach has also led, in some European countries, to concerns that there has been an increase in the activities of organized crime groups.
Rather than reverting to the visa-free travel suspension mechanism and reintroducing visa requirements for Georgians, the EU and partners now are looking at ways to support Georgia in stemming the flow of travelers by relying on stricter application of the Schengen Border Code at points of embarkation.
IOM and the French Embassy this week organized the international conference in Tbilisi, where policy makers and practitioners from the EU and the Government of Georgia discussed ways to solidify Georgia’s compliance with the benchmarks of the Visa Liberalization Action Plan.