Citizenship by investment: Reflections from Malta one year later

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Pro-EU, but not press freedom: Malta. [Derbeth/Flickr]

It is now one year since Malta first announced its intention to offer citizenship through investment, and more than six months since the Individual Investor Programme went live. At the time, the idea of the programme caused uproar in some circles, but now that things are underway, what is actually happening?

Dr Mark Hyzler, B.A., LL.M. (Lond), LL.D., is a residency and citizenship specialist at GVTH Advocates in Valletta, Malta.

Anyone following the progress of the Individual Investor Programme closely will know that there have been a number of changes made that differentiate the initial concept from the system that is actually now in place.

A number of these changes came into force because of initial opposition to the scheme here in Malta, and from both the European Commission and Parliament. While the situation certainly caused some embarrassment at the time, the result has been that the IIP framework is much more robust than might otherwise have been the case.

Perhaps the most obvious difference is that the initial concept allowed for only one company – Henley and Partners – to process applications. In contrast, there are now almost one hundred people from a mix of law firms and consultancies that are considered to be approved accredited agents by Identity Malta, the government department overseeing the programme.

The Maltese government has run a number of training days for prospective agents. To be accepted onto the approved accredited agent list, an applicant needs to complete a vetting process, the training and then pass an exam.

Applicants that wish to apply for citizenship must pass through an initial vetting procedure designed to ensure that only the most desirable applicants can make it through the process. From my own perspective, the application process seems to be very thorough. The spotlight that has been shone onto the programme means that nobody wants to make a mistake and every element of an application is being checked and double checked, as it should be.

A successful applicant needs to be a resident of Malta for a minimum period of one year. They obviously do not need to stay in Malta for every single day of that year, but this minimum period means that there have not actually been any completed applications yet.

Malta is obviously not the only country in the European Union to have created a system to provide naturalisation like this. Cyprus has recently relaunched its own scheme and new member Croatia is also considering its options.

Since the issuing of passports has been determined to be a national and not a European competency, there might be more countries that wish to pursue citizenship by investment. If this is to be the case, it would appear that a discussion as to what period of time is considered to be acceptable for residency ought to be initiated. In Malta’s case, the minimum residency period has been set at twelve months, which does seem quite reasonable. Whether this period is correct or ought to be higher or lower is certainly a matter that needs reflection.

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