The passport-via-investment market first came into existence in the 80's, when the exotic islands of St Kitts & Nevis first decided to bring additional foreign investment into the country in return for passports. Countries across the world copied the concept with their own schemes to provide foreign investors with residency visas or citizenship or Passports in exchange for funds or furthering the economy. Investment in real estate and property, or hiring locals are often key elements of the requirements.
The following EU member states are offering passport schemes widely known as Golden Visas:
Plus two non-EU member states:
The reports showed how some European countries are selling access to the Schengen visa-free travel area with “little scrutiny, transparency or due diligence”. which said such schemes allow persons deemed close to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and his predecessor Boris Yeltsin as well as members of Angola’s ruling class to largely benefit.
“It is clear that due diligence procedures in some EU countries, such as Hungary and Portugal, have not been rigorous enough” spokesperson for Transparency International was quoted as saying. “Citizenship and residency are among the most valuable assets a country can offer an individual, but EU member states have not even been applying the same minimum checks that banks are supposed to apply to their high net-worth customers”.
Cyprus is not actually party to the Schengen area, and has repeatedly received disapproval for its citizenship-by-investment programme which allows investors to acquire Cypriot nationality with an investment of €2 million. The current scheme has been in place since 2014 and repeatedly revised, provided initially for a €5m investment. It also provides that applicants have a clean criminal record.
Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes described schemes as “absolutely perverse, immoral & increasingly alarming”. In 2014, the European Parliament criticised Golden Visas, singling out that of Malta which it described as an “outright sale” and asked the European Commission to issue recommendations to member states.
Programmes in all eight EU countries maintain secrecy around recipients of Golden Visas. The origins of beneficiaries’ wealth are not sufficiently scrutinised and the public lacks details of the investments and who ultimately benefits from them.
Montenegro, which is currently in negotiations to join the EU, has granted citizenship to a former Thai politician and another from Palestine who are both facing charges related to financial corruption and appropriation respectively.
The Hungarian case is particularly strange since profits from the Golden Visa programme do not appear to be benefiting the country, rather finding their way into unknown pockets via companies, all but one of which are housed in offshore tax havens that trade in Hungary’s Golden Visa shares.
Mr Michalis Michael, the chairman of the Cyprus Investment Promotion Agency stated that the government-sponsored body is about to introduce stricter criteria and procedures governing the Cypriot Golden Visa programme, with the inclusion of a registry of related service providers, as instructed by the cabinet in January.
Still, the new programme will not be more transparent compared to the current one, which only provides for the publication of notices by applicants in the Cypriot press.