TI Calls On Restrictions to Golden Visa Schemes

Published: 11 October 2018

EU FlagArtistic rendering of EU flag (Photo: Pixabay) 

By Alex Cooper

Migration to Europe is easier if you’re rich, according to a report released Wednesday by Transparency International and Global Witness. The report highlights the accessibility to European countries through Golden Visa schemes that mostly benefit the powerful and even the corrupt.

Some EU countries grant such visas in exchange for investments but critics say the vetting of the applicants is too loose and the origins of some of the money may be shady.

“If you have a lot of money that you acquired through dubious means, securing a new place to call home far away from the place you stole from isn’t just appealing, it’s sensible,” Naomi Hirst, a Senior Campaigner at Global Witness, said in a statement.

“Golden Visa schemes offer a safe haven from authorities who might be looking to seize your stolen assets, and the freedom to travel without raising suspicion,” she said.

“Given these inherent risks, these schemes must have the highest standards of due diligence checks,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, that is not what we are seeing.”

Profit-hungry countries expose themselves to corrupt individuals and disregard the dangers, Hirst explained.

In partnership with Transparency International and Global Witness, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project published an investigation in March that probed the shadowy business of selling visa-free travel and citizenship to the rich, some of who would rather not say where their money comes from.

Golden Visas were born more than 30 years ago to pump money into the faltering economy of the Caribbean island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis, but have since become a multi-billion-dollar industry involving countries around the globe.

The rules behind these Golden Visa schemes differ from country to country, with governments often attempting to keep details of the programs a secret.

Transparency International EU’s Anti-Money Laundering Policy Officer, Laure Brillaud, who co-authored the report, said that the Golden Visa schemes often allow corrupt people enter the EU.

“It is for this reason,” Brillaud says, “that EU-wide action is urgently required. Brussels needs to define standards for these programmes and ensure that they are adhered to in all Member States offering citizenship and residence permits for investment.”

According to the report, 6,000 passports and around 100,000 residency permits have been sold within Golden Visa schemes in the last decade. Transparency International notes that Hungary, Latvia, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom all have given over 10,000 each.

The EU has collected almost US$29 billion over the last ten years from these programs. Some of these countries, like Cyprus and Portugal, do not apparently question the source of the wealth of individuals using the program. The report found that Maltese officials may allow individuals with criminal pasts to access the Golden Visa scheme in “special circumstances.”

In some EU member states, the report said, applications are accepted around 90 percent of the time, causing some speculation on the rigor of the process.

The report recommends EU states set standards for their Golden Visa programs as well as assess the risk the schemes pose to the bloc under anti-money laundering rules. The organizations also call for a way to collect data pertaining to the applications including on investments made and rejections decided.

It even calls for the actions against EU members that fail to adequately assess applicants and whose Golden Visa programs “could undermine the collective security of EU nations.”