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As golden passport and visa programs around the world undergo strict scrutiny and the European Union prepares to issue harsher controls, Malta and Portugal have secured top spots in the annual indexes published by Henley and Partners (H&P) ranking the world’s most attractive Investment Migration Programs.
This is the seventh consecutive year that Malta appears at the top of the Global Citizenship Program Index, followed by two other European countries — Austria and Montenegro.
The other top countries offering the best citizenship-by-investment options include North Macedonia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Dominica, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Vanuatu and Cambodia.
“Malta holds the 1st place, with its Granting of Citizenship for Exceptional Services by Direct Investment Regulations,” H&P explained in a press release. “The regulations allow for the granting of citizenship following a 36-month residency period or by exception a 12-month residency period.”
Portugal tops Golden Visa index
Another index of countries offering the best residence programs puts Portugal in the first position.
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“The Portugal Golden Visa is a residence visa issued to non-E.U. nationals who have made a significant investment in Portugal, such as purchasing real estate, making a capital investment, or creating employment opportunities,” SchengenVisaInfo.com reports.
“It is a fast-track process for obtaining permanent residence and citizenship in an E.U. country – via the Golden Visa, you can become eligible for Portuguese citizenship in as little as five years.”
The second place in the ranking of “the world’s most important residence-by-investment programs” is shared by Austria and Italy, with the Swiss Residence Program in third.
The other countries that made the ranking
The golden residence list also includes: Greece, Malta, Jersey, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Canada, Cyprus, Ireland, Dubai (UAE), Latvia, U.S., Monaco, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, Panama, Mauritius, Bulgaria and Malaysia.
“The recent estimation of the consultancy brings into light the fact that Europe continues to dominate the top spots in the H&P rankings as the most sought after investment programs in the world,” SchengenVisa writes.
Both indexes appear in the 2022 edition of the annual Investment Migration Programs offering “a systematic analysis and comprehensive benchmarking of the world’s most important residence and citizenship by investment programs, providing the gold standard in this field,” H&P said in a statement released on Tuesday.
This year’s edition was further expanded and now includes comprehensive analysis and comparison of 40 programs, the highest number to date.
Calls for global bans
The citizenship and residence-by-investment schemes have been in the international spotlight for some time now, with growing calls to ban such practices altogether. The pressure has mounted as countries, including Malta, have announced the suspension of their golden visas and passport schemes for Russian nationals.
“Both the European Commission and the United States have said they will be taking measures to stop ‘golden passport’ sales to wealthy Russians as part of a raft of sanctions against Russia,” the Times of Malta reports.
The schemes confer E.U. citizenship or resident status on non-E.U. nationals in exchange for financial investments.
A study by the European Parliament has estimated that “more than 130,000 people have obtained residence or citizenship in E.U. countries via these schemes with the total investment estimated at €21.4 billion from 2011 to 2019.”
The European Commission has issued recommendations to all its member states on residence permits and citizenship under investor schemes and is discussing an E.U.-wide ban on ‘golden passports’, common rules for ‘golden visas’ and other strict measures such as stringent background checks (including on family members and on sources of funds), mandatory checks against E.U. justice and home affairs systems and vetting procedures in third countries.
Since ending such programs could have serious economic impacts on the countries involved, E.U. lawmakers are proposing “a gradual phaseout of golden passport schemes and tight rules for residence arrangements, including much more rigorous checks on applicants,” reports Reuters.
The golden passport industry
“The Commission’s pressure on all visa free countries running citizenship by investment schemes has brought results, as several visa-free countries have decided to terminate their schemes or have put on hold plans for new ones,” according to the Malta Independent.
Reuters reports that “the golden passport industry is currently almost entirely unregulated in the E.U., despite many countries having run these schemes for years.”
“Companies developing and promoting these programmes, such as Henley & Partners, would face strict requirements,” it continues. “Under the proposal, which is backed by a majority of legislators, revenues generated by these schemes would be taxed to fund the E.U. budget.”
The European Parliament is voting on a proposal stating that ”the E.U. should end so-called golden passports which allow rich people to obtain E.U. citizenship in exchange for investment,” during the March plenary.
“The bar for what counts as an investment has been too low for too long,” a new Parliament report says. “E.U. residency should only be awarded to people who are investing in the real economy and who can be trusted to be legitimate investors without criminal backgrounds.”
These schemes are characterized by requiring minimal or no physical presence and offer a fast-track to residency or citizenship status in an E.U. country compared with the obstacles of seeking international protection, legal migration or naturalization through conventional channels.
Once granted their new status of residency or citizenship, the beneficiaries of the schemes immediately start enjoying freedom of movement within the Schengen area.
The report produced by Parliament’s civil liberties committee calls the schemes “objectionable from an ethical, legal and economic point of view.”