Question about the event
Ambassador Degnan: Today is a really good news story here in Zugdidi. USAID and the Georgian Innovation Technology Agency are launching a partnership that is focused on developing young entrepreneurs here along the part of Georgia neighboring the area occupied by Russia. This is an opportunity using the great tech park here in Zugdidi to develop the skills, ideas, and innovations of young people in this region, so that they don’t feel they have to go to Tbilisi to do this. They’ve got all the high-tech equipment, they’ve got great ideas, and this partnership is aimed at helping them develop those skills and ideas right here in their own communities. USAID has been working throughout Georgia for the past 30 years to try to make sure that young people in Georgia not only can realize their dreams, but they can stay in their own communities while doing it. They don’t have to go into the capital or even abroad for that. So, we’re really excited to be working with GITA today on this wonderful new project for the whole Samegrelo region based here in Zugdidi.
Question about the resumption of flights
Ambassador Degnan: I understand why Georgian people are worried about this. This is not about sanctioning Georgians. The recent census numbers show there’s only about 130,000 Georgians living in Russia anyway, and most of them are either dual Russian Georgian citizens or if they wanted to leave Russia, they left last year. What this is really about is the maybe million Russian citizens that want to come to Georgia.
This is for the convenience largely of Russians who want to come to Georgia, not about Georgia. I think it’s understandable why people are concerned, why people want to have a better understanding of what this is going to cost Georgia. Again, if there are further steps by Russia to normalize relations with Georgia, while Russia still occupies 20% of Georgia’s territory; still detains eight Georgian citizens in South Ossetia; still puts incredible pressure on this country while Russia is attacking and bombing Ukraine; I think it’s fair for Georgian citizens to be concerned.
Question about visas to the United States
Ambassador Degnan: It’s very simple to get a visa to go to the United States. You first have to apply for a visa. All of the steps are outlined very clearly on our website, and thousands and thousands of Georgians who have followed those steps have received visas if they’re eligible for them. So, it’s not a complicated process. It can take time and you have to plan in advance because we have a lot of people who want to go to the United States, and so we have to schedule the appointments on a first come, first served basis. We welcome thousands and thousands of Georgians every year. As I said, we have a group of young Georgian performers in the United States next week performing for Georgian Independence Day. We’ve got a troupe of 30 ballerinas and performers from the TSU State Ballet already touring throughout the United States this year. We have cultural groups, we have students, we have visitors: tourists, businesspeople. If people follow the steps and they’re eligible, they will get a visa. But first you have to apply. You’re not going to get a visa if you haven’t taken the time to apply for one. You also have to be eligible. Of course, we don’t talk about the details of specific cases because that is for the protection of the privacy of the individuals involved. I’m sure it’s the exact same in Georgian’s system, as it is in consular systems all over the world. We’re very careful about the privacy of the people who are applying because they have to provide a lot of information.