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24 May, 2024 10:03

US announces visa crackdown on NATO hopeful

Those promoting the ‘foreign agent law’ in Georgia could be barred from traveling to America, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said
US announces visa crackdown on NATO hopeful

The US will begin restricting visas for certain Georgian citizens connected with the country’s so-called foreign agent bill, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.

In a statement on Thursday, the top diplomat slammed the law, which requires non-profit organizations, media outlets, and individuals who receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as entities “promoting the interests of a foreign power.” 

The bill was passed by the Georgian parliament last week, but later vetoed by President Salome Zourabichvili, one of its fiercest critics. It is still expected to be adopted due to the ruling Georgian Dream party having a parliamentary majority, which can override the president.

While the bill’s advocates have argued that it will improve media transparency, opponents to it have claimed the measure will hinder Georgia’s potential membership of the EU, to which Tbilisi is an applicant , as well as to the NATO military bloc. They have also drawn parallels with Russia’s Foreign Agents Law, which was passed in 2012 and bears strong similarities to the US Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA). Both laws require entities receiving foreign funds to publicly disclose their financial sources abroad.

Russia has stressed the ‘foreign agent law’ is a domestic issue for Georgia, and that it has no plans to interfere.

According to Blinken, the legislation, which has sparked mass protests, “would stifle the exercise of freedoms of association and expression,” stigmatize numerous organizations, and impede the work of media outlets. He also said the bill “run[s] contrary to Georgia’s long-stated goal… of Euro-Atlantic integration and strategic partnership with the United States.”

“In response to these actions, the Department of State is implementing a new visa restriction policy for Georgia that will apply to individuals who are responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia, as well as their family members,” Blinken said.

He added that those deemed to be undermining democracy in Georgia “may be found ineligible for US visas” and precluded from travel to the US, noting that the same restrictions could apply to immediate family members of those individuals.

The secretary also announced “a comprehensive review of bilateral cooperation between the United States and Georgia,” while voicing hope that officials in Tbilisi will eventually scrap the bill.

The EU has also come out against the proposal, with Financial Times reporting that some of the bloc’s members have insisted on suspending visa-free travel with Georgia over the controversy. Meanwhile, Foreign Policy reported on Tuesday that the EU may withhold confirmation of Georgia’s candidate status in October if the bill is not withdrawn.