A popular tourist destination with glorious weather, sunny beaches, and interesting historical sites, Malta, which is a small archipelago situated in the Mediterranean, is offering attractive investment immigration opportunities to attract wealthy individuals seeking citizenship of a European country.
An investor can become a citizen of Malta by investing of €650,000 in the country. Citizenship entitles the investor to travel, work, and reside in any of the 28 member states of the European Union. The Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, expects the investor immigration program to generate of €30 million for the country. The Prime Minister expects around 200-300 applications from wealthy investors.
However, such Individual Investor Schemes have divided opinion sharply and have resulted in a bitter national debate about whether Malta should allow non-residents to gain citizenship of the country through mere long-term investments in the country.
While the Maltese government has sought to allay fears by emphasizing about the importance of a clean criminal record for all applicants and agreeing to publicizing the names of individuals who are granted citizenship in exchange of investments, there is sustained opposition to these schemes and fears that the Opposition may insist on a referendum to settle the issue.
The criticism and opposition is not restricted to Malta alone. German politicians have accused Malta of trying to earn money from its status as a member of the EU and have sought a review of the scheme by the EU Commission.
However, such criticisms have no real legal basis as the EU allows all member states to offer citizenship through naturalization. Further, Malta is neither the first nor the only EU country to offer citizenship or residence in lieu of investments. There are many other EU nations that have resorted to such Schemes and Golden Visas to overcome their financial and economic problems.
Portugal offers a Golden Visa along with the opportunity to apply for permanent residence or even a passport in exchange of long-term investments of €500,000 in real estate, or €1 million in financial assets, or investments that result in creation of at least ten jobs in Portugal. Other countries with similar programs include Spain, Greece, and Ireland.
Malta has been the first EU country to offer citizenship in lieu of investment. The Scheme has been introduced to help Malta steal a march over Cyprus. The latter had reduced the minimum investment requirement to € 2.5 million from € 10 million. Austria too offers citizenship through investment without any prior residence requirements. However, Austria requires the applicant to invest or donate a sum of not less than € 3 million in a project of public interest.
While all schemes offer some form of long-term residence to those making investments in the country, there is a significant difference between nations seeking funds for long-term investments or nations seeking to boost employment or property market and nations that offer citizenship simply in lieu of a direct payment to the nation’s government.
The decision is not dependent on the whims and fancies of the national governments. Malta’s citizenship program is an attractive proposition primarily due to the fact that it offers easy access to other developed members of the European Union.
With more and more nations seeking to join the investment bandwagon, there are calls that the EU should simply do away with national citizenships and create a pan-European citizenship for all its residents. Supporters of anti-immigration laws and policies are seeking newer laws that target this emerging trend of priority migration.
On the whole, the concept of investment immigration is leading to a race between members of the EU, which is only contributing to increased friction in the Union that has always suffered from instability due to discord between member states.