EU Targets Golden Visas in Clampdown on Dirty Money

Long overdue:

European Union lawmakers voted to limit so-called golden visas, as countries across the region clamp down on cash-for-passport programs.

Wednesday’s European parliament vote, which passed with a 595 to 12 majority, aims to ban “golden passports” and set up EU-level regulation on visas that includes stronger background checks on applicants and the source of their wealth. After the vote, the parliament expects the European Commission to propose legislation to standardize programs across the common area.

“The commission has a duty now to act,” MEP Sophie In’t Veld said during a press conference in Strasbourg ahead of the vote. “The whole situation with the war in Ukraine has again put spotlight on the problem of people buying passports, buying residency, buying access to the EU.”

Parliament wants the Commission to come up with a legislative proposal that will ban golden passports, phasing them out by 2025 while regulating golden visas to ensure that investments flow into the real economy. Lawmakers are also asking for stringent background checks, including on family members and on the origin of funds. In addition, the parliament called on the EU Commission to ban Russian nationals who are subject to EU sanctions from all so-called residence-by-investment schemes.

European lawmakers also want to put pressure on third countries, such as Panama or Saint Kitts & Nevis, to abolish visa schemes that allow people who receive the documents to travel freely across the EU.

Thirteen member states currently have programs that allow citizens of non-EU countries to acquire an EU passport or residency permit in exchange for an investment such as real estate or bonds. Without any European-wide rules in place, the eligibility requirements vary greatly across the region, with the minimum investment ranging from 127,000 euros ($140,000) in Bulgaria to 1.2 million euros in the Netherlands. The golden visa programs have attracted about 3.5 billion euros per year from 2016 to 2019, according to European Parliament research.

In 2020, the European Commission opened legal action against Cyprus and Malta for their cash-for-passports schemes which grant EU citizenship to investors “without a genuine link” to the country.  Bulgaria, which also has a citizenship-by-investment scheme, has tabled a draft bill to end it.

Member states including Portugal, Greece and the Czech Republic have halted the issuance of visas to Russian nationals in light of the war in Ukraine. Last month, the U.K. scrapped its investor visa scheme to crack down on money laundering. Bulgaria also moved in that direction with a bill to drop golden passports altogether.

“We consider that operating investor citizenship schemes that systematically offer citizenship in exchange for pre-determined payments and investments, without a genuine link with the Member States concerned, violates EU law,” the commission said in a statement.

Source: EU Targets Golden Visas in Clampdown on Dirty Money

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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