For the first time ever, the European Union has decided to subject an entire country to exemplary punishment for trading in passports that give the right to visa-free entry into the European block.
The small island Republic of Vanuatu, which practices the “citizenship in exchange for investment” scheme, is at risk of becoming the first target. Next in line are other states that give out “golden passports” for a lot of money.
“It is often used by wealthy citizens of visa-free countries to circumvent Schengen requirements and checks, including those designed to stop money laundering and terrorist financing.”
Even within the European Union, there are countries that are not too scrupulous in issuing their passports – the EU is currently suing Malta and Cyprus, demanding tougher conditions for granting citizenship in exchange for investment.
As for non-EU countries, it is easier for Brussels to put pressure on them by threatening to cancel the visa-free regime.
Until now, the European Union has never applied an extreme measure – the abolition of the visa-free regime. Now there is the first opportunity to demonstrate the indisputable will of the European Union – and the first target was the small island nation of Vanuatu, whose passport opens the borders of 130 countries. To obtain such a document for a foreigner, it is enough to “invest” $130,000.
In recent years, more than 10,000 such “investors” have become citizens of Vanuatu. The sale of passports, according to Investment Migration Insider, brings almost half of all income to a poor island country. About 40% of Vanuatu’s “golden passports” were bought by the Chinese.
The EU is concerned that among the newly minted “Vanuatis” there are people who are on the Interpol’s international wanted list, as well as dubious characters from Syria, Yemen, Iran and Afghanistan.
“We respect the sovereignty of third countries in matters of citizenship, but we will not allow the right to visa-free entry to the EU to be used as a bait for investments in exchange for a passport,” the European Commission said in connection with the idea to strip Vanuatu citizens of visa-free entry.
If the EU member countries agree with the proposal of the European Commission, then after a two-month transition period, everyone who received a Vanuatu passport after 2015 will lose the right to visa-free entry into the European Union. The ban will be lifted if the government amends the rules, the European Commission said.
The European Commission also said that it is currently monitoring similar programs or planned golden passport schemes in several other countries, including the Caribbean and Eastern European states such as Albania, Moldova and Montenegro.
According to the latest data, the global “golden passports” market is estimated to be worth $25 billion a year.
In Europe, a passport costs from $500 thousand (plus there are a lot of bureaucratic “red tape”), but in the island states of the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean, a citizenship document can cost much less ($100-$150 thousand) and without any unnecessary delay.