The announcement of the new Government of Georgia Decree No. 2460 on December 16th 2020, is at last an opportunity for foreigners caught in Georgia during COVID to breathe a sigh of relief.
Legal Stays for most foreigners will be extended until July 1st 2021.
What should be established immediately though, in contrary to the usual hearsay we can expect in Facebook groups, is this extension does NOT legally apply to everyone – it is NOT a blanket extension.
That said, if you:
- Are from one of the 95 Visa free countries* (note: Jordan was added to the original 94, as the 95th, at a later date).
- AND Were in Georgia on a legal stay on March 14th 2020
- AND Satisfy 1 or more of the 4 criteria (listed below) and continue to do so from now until July 1st 2021**
Then in most cases you will be able to continue a legal stay in Georgia until July 1st 2021 without any repercussions. In addition, from January 1st until June 30th, this legal stay can now be used as part of the necessary requirements for making a residency application (other requirements apply, more info below).
*If you are not from one of the 95 visa free countries, you will likely still qualify without issue so long as items 2 & 3 from above are met. However, our comments and discussion in this article refer only to cases for persons from those 95 countries and we will not comment further on any additional considerations if you are from countries not on that list.
**Important: Once you no longer meet 1 or more of the 4 criteria, you should make reasonable efforts to exit Georgia, though leniency on fines at the border, up until July 1st, is expected.
Disclaimer: The below information is based on our lawyers assessment of the actual legislation, as referenced below, as well as some small clarifications relating to intent, from a government source. The below is for information only and does not constitute legal advice.
UPDATE April 7th 2021: The SDA has made it increasingly difficult for foreigners to use the July 1st extension as proof of a legal stay in order to apply for legal residency. Our office has still been actively and successfully processing residency applications on this basis but it should be noted that significant additional paperwork and legal argument has been essential to win such cases.
If your residence application was refused or rejected, contact us with more details and we may be able to assist.
In addition, border guards have chosen to ignore the July 1st extension and simply fine people when exiting. Attempts at showing the legislation to border guards has had mixed results. Alternatively, applying to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a letter validating your reasons for not leaving sooner, has had some success, if the ministry will issue the letter – which can also take some time.
Most Important Considerations
Government of Georgia Decree No. 2460 is designed to make amendments to the original Ordinance 164, which set out the previous 31st December extension. And those amendments have recently been added to the Georgian version of the document and officially go into force as of January 1st 2021.
The important considerations for foreigners are:
1. The Date Of The Extension – July 1st 2021
Not surprisingly the most important change is the new date for extensions is now until July 1st 2021 – technically June 30th 2021 for your legal stay, and by July 1st you should already have exited or got a residency permit. Though, it should be noted, this date could be changed at anytime (forward or backward) and is not binding against future decrees.
2. The 4 Criteria For Qualifying (Article 5.1)
These 4 criteria are valid reasons for qualifying for the extension:
a) the state of citizenship of the person was in a high-risk zone during the respective period;
b) a restriction on the crossing of the border has been imposed by the respective state;
c) the person was in hospital, quarantine or self-isolation because of his/her health condition;
d) the person could not leave the country within the specified time due to cancelled flights.
So long as one or more of these 4 continue to apply to you, and you were in Georgia on a legal stay on March 14th 2020, then you can continue your legal stay. At such time as none of these criteria apply to you, you should make reasonable efforts to leave Georgia.
3. Definition of “High Risk” Countries
The definitions in the legislation are not as black & white as we would like. Based on clarifications our office has now received, the most important definition would be based on Article 4.1.h, which suggests that any country designated high risk by the WHO could be considered high risk for the purpose of this legal stay extension. This would actively apply therefore to most countries from the list of 95, at this time (17th December 2020), except perhaps New Zealand, Australia and South Korea.
However, we at ExpatHub cannot give the final word on which are high risk countries.
And, as noted above, it has been made clear to us that, at the very least, the 95 visa free countries would be unlikely to have repercussions when leaving up until July 1st, even if their country’s risk level has reduced prior to that date. Of course, if you meet any of the 4 criteria, other than the high risk status, then that will also work to continue legitimizing your eligibility to stay. For New Zealand, flight restrictions would be a consideration for eligibility, for example.
4. July 1st 2021 is NOT a blanket extension for all
Once it is safe for you to leave, and you no longer qualify with any of the 4 criteria, you are expected to make reasonable efforts to leave.
July 1st is not simply the new date for exit for every foreigner in Georgia. It is simply the maximum allotted extension, providing you continue to meet 1 or more of the 4 criteria.
But, the maximum penalty that is likely to be made against someone from one of the 95 countries, is the standard 360 GEL overstaying fine on exit. At this time, it has also been conveyed to us that these fines will probably not come back into force until after July 1st. Though fines are ultimately at the discretion of the border police.
5. The New Date Constitutes a “Legal Stay”
Ordinance 164, Article 5.3 previously stated:
“In the cases specified in paragraph 1 of this Article, the presence of a foreigner or a stateless person on the territory of Georgia shall not be considered lawful for the purposes of obtaining a residence permit in Georgia.“
As of January 1st 2021, this paragraph will be removed, meaning that you can use the July 1st date as your legal stay date. Meaning that in applications for residency, where 7 or 40 days of validity of legal stay is required, you will no longer have to get an emergency visa extension first, in order to have the legal stay validity to make said application.
UPDATE Mar 29th 2021: While the legislation remains in place and legally allows for the above option. In practice, as flights have resumed and the world situation has evolved, the SDA has becoming increasingly reluctant to accept the 1st July extension as a legal stay. Providing significant evidence to meet one of the 4 criteria mentioned above has been required in order to qualify.
The emergency legislation may change
As the new legislation is based on an emergency decree, if the situation worldwide improves faster than expected, it’s hard to say if the July 1st deadline will be brought forward, or not.
Our personal opinion is that it won’t be brought forward, as this would be highly disruptive. However, there is certainly no guarantee it would ever be extended again.
The most important consideration is, if flights are opening and risk in other countries is reduced by June 30th, that still does not guarantee that Georgia will fully reopen borders by that date. We all hope that borders do reopen but we could end up in an interim situation where leaving is easy enough that no further extensions will be given but that Georgia is still not willing or able to remove all their border restrictions.
In which case, those who would normally renew their visas by crossing the border and coming back again, might not be able to do so. And even if they can, some sort of quarantine or self isolation may still be in place. So, a border run would be highly inconvenient, at the very least.
Why Not Get Residency?
If you plan to stay in Georgia for the long term, and not leave as soon as it is safe to do so, then legal residency is a smart choice.
The July 1st extension has given everyone approx. 6 months to work towards a point where they can qualify for legal residency, and ample time for most who qualify to make the application. After July first we believe it will be unlikely that legal stays will be extended again, at which point you would likely have to leave Georgia and return in order to then apply for residency.
The new legislation has also removed the “legal stay validity” problem, as described above.
With the uncertainty of COVID still looming, even with some vaccinations coming soon, if you prefer to regain some certainty, then at least legal residency can remove one item of stress from your life.
A residence permit will allow you to remain in Georgia, without having to worry about border runs and entry permits.
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