From: Alice Taylor
Foreigners Left in Lurch amid Albania’s Digitalisation Drive

The digitalisation of Albanian institutions has been much lauded and trumpeted by the government, but it has left many of the country’s foreign residents in the lurch and facing big fines.

As of 1 May, e-Albania has taken on the role of many institutional counter services from across the country. Matters such as residency, tax, and business activities can now, in theory, all be carried out via the portal. The government claims this will make the process much easier and reduce corruption.

But in practice, the system does not work for non-Albanian citizens with businesses. According to Monitor, hundreds of companies with foreign administrators and shareholders are now locked out of the system and have received no guidance from the responsible institutions.

Many such companies cannot even submit a balance sheet, which leaves them risking a fine of up to 60,000 ALL (EUR 500).

For over a year, the National Business Centre (QKB) has been directing applications towards e-Albania for most services. Only some services, not yet offered online, were still provided in the centre. One example is the provision of services to entities with foreign owners or administrators as they cannot access the e-Albania portal as it requires an Albanian ID to do so.

But as counters have closed from 1 May and the services are no longer offered in person, foreigners are stranded.

“Today, a foreigner does not receive a service from QKB because the e-Albania portal is not yet ready to provide this service without the support of an operator who enters the data for the initial registration or even for updating data,” accountant Ahmet Gjenishi told Monitor.

Similarly, matters such as registering as a physical person and for taxation purposes can be done via e-Albania, but require additional steps for which there is little guidance and necessitate the help of an accountant.

This is not the first time foreign residents have been left out of digitalisation efforts. During the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when it was necessary to apply for permission to leave the house via e-Albania, the same issue came to light. Without an Albanian ID, foreigners found difficulties in getting permission or using their passport numbers instead.

Also, when Albania started its vaccination drive for COVID-19, foreigners could not make appointments or get a referral as they did not have access to the portal to do so.  This was quickly rectified by the government, who informed them that they did not need to make appointments but could just appear in person with a passport.