What are ‘golden visas’ and why are they a threat to the EU?

Getting the right to live and work in another country can be a long and difficult process. But that’s not always the case for those with money to spend.

Golden visas offer the opportunity for wealthy people to essentially ‘buy’ the right to residency – sometimes without even having to live in the country.

And their popularity in the European Union is growing as people look to move away from political decisions such as Brexit that may limit their rights.

With the unsettled political and social environment in the US, applications for golden visas from Americans are expected to increase. In its latest report, passporting firm Get Golden Visa predicts 2022 will be “its busiest year yet.”

So what exactly are these golden visa schemes and why has the EU raised questions about their safety in recent months?
What is a golden visa?
Residence by investment schemes, otherwise known as ‘golden visas’, offer people the chance to get a residency permit for a country by purchasing a house there or making a large investment or donation.

Any applicants must be over the age of 18, have a clean criminal record and have sufficient funds to make the required investment.

There are also golden passports, known officially as citizenship by investment programs, that allow foreigners to gain citizenship using the same means.

For countries in the EU, this also means gaining access to many of the benefits of being a resident of the bloc – including free movement between countries.

What is the EU doing about golden visas and passports?
Earlier this year, the European Commission called on EU governments to stop selling citizenship to investors.

Though these are different to golden visas, which offer permanent residency rather than citizenship, the call came as part of a move to crack down on this combined multi-billion euro industry. In the wake of the Ukraine war, there were concerns that these schemes could be a security risk.

Brussels also called for countries to double check whether people sanctioned due to the war were holding a golden passport or visa that they had issued.

In the past, the EU has also said that schemes of this kind are a risk to security, transparency and the values that underpin the European Union project.

In February, the UK government scrapped its golden visa scheme that allowed wealthy foreign nationals to settle in the country in exchange for bringing part of their wealth with them. The decision to end the scheme came as part of a move to clamp down on dirty money from Russia.

In October 2022, the European Commission urged Albania to “refrain from developing an investors’ citizenship scheme (golden passports)”. Such a scheme would “pose risks as regards security, money laundering, tax evasion, terrorist financing, corruption and infiltration by organised crime, and would be incompatible with EU norms,” it warns in a report.

Threats also come from outside the bloc. Also in October, the European Commission proposed a suspension of Vanuatu’s visa waiver agreement due to golden passport risks. This is because the scheme enables nationals of third countries to gain Vanuatu citizenship, which then earns them visa-free access to Schengen zone countries.

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