The official narrative on the influx of Russian migrants, on potential secondary sanctions from the West, and on relations with Russia in general emphasizes that law-abiding individuals are always welcome in Georgia, that a war with Russia must be avoided at any cost, and that the economic prosperity of Georgia should come first.
In response to Vladimir Putin’s announcement
in May 2023 that direct flights to Georgia, which had been suspended since July 2019, would be resumed and Georgian citizens could travel visa-free to Russia for 90 days, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili suggested
introducing visas for Russian citizens. This surprising move, risking Russia’s ire, indicates how sensitive the issue of migration in Georgia can be. In the past year, tensions between the ruling party and the opposition have grown, including over Russian migrants. There have even been protests
over Russian influence
, demanding limitations on Russian visitors
. Given these concerns, exacerbated by significant increases
in the cost of living and rent prices related to the influx of immigrants, tensions are likely to grow ahead of the parliamentary election scheduled for 2024.
While Georgia is a relatively attractive destination for Russian migrants, in practice border controls are somewhat unpredictable. Several high-profile opposition
figures as well as ordinary Russian visitors have been refused entry
without explanation. In some cases, those denied entry then manage to enter through a different border control point or wait for a new shift of border guards. Stories of those denied entry have broad resonance among the emigrant community and cause some not to leave Georgia out of fear they won’t be allowed to re-enter the country.
Another leverage point the Georgian government has used to manage migrant populations is long-term residence permits, which allow permit holders to stay in the country longer than one year. According to recent statistics
, just over half of residence permit applications from Russians were accepted in the first three months of 2023 (versus a 69% acceptance rate in 2022), even for those individuals who have real estate investments in the country. Rejections of work permit applications are even higher — as many as 60%.
Once migrants enter the country, they have little interaction with the state, since they do not have to register at their place of residence, and many migrants do not bother to pursue a residence permit.
Banks, however, have introduced several hurdles for Russian migrants, such as procedures that set premium prices on services, restrict certain operations in foreign currencies, and limit money transfers. In all these banking transactions, Russian clients may face requirements that vary from one bank to another, from branch to branch, or even between workers at the same branch. In addition, due to the rapid growth of nonresident deposits in Georgian banks, the National Bank of Georgia significantly increases
the liquidity requirements for such transactions.