By Salman Siddiqui
Vanuatu's citizenship by investment program appears to be in jeopardy after the EU Commission announced today that it is seeking to partially suspend its visa waiver deal with the country on the pretext that its investment immigration program, also known as the golden visa, endangers EU.
The EU Commission said the proposed step is "necessary to mitigate the risks posed by Vanuatu's investor citizenship (or ‘golden passports’) schemes on the security of the EU and its member states," in an official statement released on January 12.
Several serious issues were highlighted in the statement about Vanuatu's CBI program, including that screening of applicants was not meeting the highest standards and individuals who were in Interpol's wanted databases had also managed to successfully get the country's citizenship. It also mentioned that the rejection rate of the citizenship applications was "very low", and only one person's CBI application had been rejected from the day of the program’s inception in 2015 until 2020.
Vanuatu CBI agent Laszlo Kiss, managing director at Discus Holdings Ltd., called on the Vanuatu government to take action following the EU commission’s proposal to suspend the visa waiver deal.
“We encourage the Vanuatu government to strengthen its due diligence process even more,” Kiss said.
EU Commission raises concern with Vanuatu’s CBI program
The EU Commission also took serious issue with the fact that Vanuatu had been commercially promoting its program as a way to circumvent the visa restrictions that are usually applied on citizens from non-EU countries. The European body also berated the island country for refusing to amend its CBI program despite bilateral meetings on this issue in 2019 and 2021, and blamed the government in Vanuatu of taking more measures to form a new citizenship program.
If the proposal to partially suspend the visa waiver deal gets approved by the EU Council, all Vanuatu citizens who were issued ordinary passports from May 25, 2015, onwards would have to apply for the EU visa just like other non-EU countries who do not have a visa waiver deal with the union, and they would no longer enjoy the current visa free travel to the union for three months within a six-month period, according to the EU Commission.
EU Commission offers a way out
The EU commission also offered a way out to Vanuatu in the same statement, stating that if the country completely mitigates the security risks to the EU because of its golden passport program, then the partial suspension of the visa free deal could be lifted.
Vanuatu would also have two months for negotiations with the EU Commission before the suspension is applied following the EU Council's approval.
Vanuatu CBI agents call for enhanced due diligence process
CBI agent Laszlo Kiss rejected the notion that Vanuatu was offering citizenship to criminals.
“We always rejected prospective clients who were on the Interpol red list; it is possible that someone is accused with a crime after the citizenship is granted, but no country can avoid this – see all the terrorists in the USA, UK and France which received citizenship.
“According to our knowledge, hardly any country informs officially the previous country's authority when citizenship is granted so this is just an unreasonable complaint.”
He also termed Vanuatu’s supposedly low rejection rate in its CBI program a misunderstanding.
“The ‘very low rejection rate’ is a total misunderstanding: citizenship applications are not refused – if the initial due diligence results (which is an independent process which proceeds the actual citizenship application) are negative then nobody will apply for citizenship, so obviously there is no application to be refused,” Kiss said.
“Certain nationalities can obtain Vanuatu citizenship only after they live abroad for more than five years, which is quite common in the Caribbean,” he added.
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