European Commission Calls for Tighter Controls on Golden Visas

European Union (EU) countries need to exchange more information about the lucrative Golden Visa schemes that provide residency or even citizenship to wealthy foreigners including criminals, money launderers and tax evaders, according to a report issued Wednesday.

European ComissionEuropean Commission building (Photo: Pixabay)“Security checks run on applicants are not sufficiently robust and the EU's own centralized information systems, such as the Schengen Information System (SIS), are not being used as systematically as they should be,” said the report prepared by the European Commission (EC).

Twenty EU countries currently offer some form of Golden Visa program. The report says lax standards in some countries mean criminals can slip through the cracks to launder money and evade taxes. It’s hard to know how serious or widespread the problems are, the report notes, due to a lack of information on how the schemes are run.

A team of OCCRP reporters investigated the growing phenomenon last year in Gold for Visas, a project that examined the schemes in a number of EU countries. The project was part of the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium, a partnership between OCCRP and Transparency International (TI) in cooperation with Global Witness.

In the past decade, EU states collected almost US$29 billion from Golden Visas, according to a recent report by TI and Global Witness. The United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal are some of the highest earners from the schemes, having each sold more than 10,000 visas.

According to Citizenship by Investment, a business that helps applicants obtain visas, the lowest-price visa currently available is in Latvia, for a €100,000 business investment that creates jobs; in really popular countries, required investment can top €10 million.

The new report noted that record-keeping was so erratic that investigators could not determine “the number of applications received, granted or rejected and the origins of the applicants.” Countries routinely fail to exchange information on who is applying for the visas, “nor do they inform each other of rejected applicants,” a loophole that could be exploited by criminals.

The issue is important to all EU members because, once granted, the visas provide free access to all Schengen countries. The report said the EC will establish a group of experts from member states to improve the transparency, governance and security of the schemes, including better record-keeping and setting higher standards.