By Salman Siddiqui
The list of European countries shutting their golden visa residency doors to Russian and Belarusian citizens is growing rapidly after Portugal, Greece and Malta all announced they are imposing a total RCBI ban on these countries. The measures follow EU’s recent commitment that wealthy Russians connected to the Russian government should not be able to avail any investment immigration options in the Union.
However, some European migration professionals are skeptical whether such steps would achieve their desired goal, given the fact that most clients have nothing to do with the ongoing geopolitical situation involving Ukraine and Russia, and in fact, blanket bans on certain nationalities could end up harming the entire investment immigration industry itself.
Immigration consultant Barbara Pestana, who is a partner at the legal firm, PaxLegal, based in Lisbon, said exceptions should be made for investors who meet all the security clearances and the extensive due diligence procedures.
“The good citizen, who meet the security requirements and other conditions required by the Foreigner’s Act, should not be disadvantaged. However, at the same time, it is inevitable that they will be affected by the sanctions applied by the governments and the international organizations,” Pestana said, adding that she believed the “collateral damage” would be temporary.
Vasiliki Papaloi, who is immigration consultant and attorney with Papalois & Associates Law Firm in Athens, also believed there could have been a better solution.
“Unfortunately, this is a general political measure to push in a specific situation. It would be much better if there are not these restrictions and maybe the golden visa programs are influenced more … if they are involved in a political or financial crisis…,” Papaloi said.
More EU countries expected to announce similar bans
So far, Portugal, Greece and Malta have barred all Russians and Belarusians from their residency by investment programs, and it is expected that more European nations will follow suit in the coming days.
On February 26, the European Commission issued a joint statement with several Western countries, among them the non-EU states of the UK, Canada and the US, which outlined a host of sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
Third on this list was a commitment "to acting against the people and entities who facilitate the war in Ukraine and the harmful activities of the Russian government.
"Specifically, we commit to taking measures to limit the sale of citizenship—so called golden passports—that let wealthy Russians connected to the Russian government become citizens of our countries and gain access to our financial systems," the statement said.
On the same day, the Portuguese foreign affairs minister was quoted in the Portuguese media that the country's immigration authority, the SEF, was suspending golden visas for Russian and Belarusian citizens.
Earlier this week, the Greek Ministry of Immigration and Asylum also announced that it would be following Portugal's example. The American investor visa programs -- EB-5 and E-2 programs -- are also now understood to be out of reach for Russian citizens.
Malta backtracks from initial official position
The Maltese government initially said it would continue to issue golden visas to Russians, pointing out that the EU sanctions were about golden passports, also known as citizenship by investment program, and not golden visas, in other words, residency by investment. However, on March 2, the Maltese Home Affairs Ministry issued a new statement, saying that no golden visa applications from any Russian or Belarusian would be processed by the government entities: Community Malta Agency, Identity Malta Agency, and Residency Malta Agency.
Maltese migration professionals are not impressed with the government’s turn from their initial stance.
Community Malta Agency licensed agent Nicky Gouder, who is a partner at Seed Consultancy, called for a balanced approach.
“Whilst we understand the aim of these restrictions is to further isolate Putin, as this is the only way which the West can fight this war, it is also important to find a balance between this and allowing routes for genuine Russian families who are fleeing Russia and looking for a safe haven, whether in Europe or elsewhere,” he said.
“These restrictions, together with the numerous sanctions being imposed, might achieve their end goal, however it is also important that this doesn’t come at the cost of further lives, whether Ukrainian or Russian.”
Fallout on the European migration industry
Pestana told Uglobal she was expecting a decrease in investment following the EU sanctions and Portuguese ban.
“In the first phase, and until this whole situation stabilizes, I believe there will be a decrease in investment, given the sanctions announced by the EU and the Portuguese government,” she said.
“The removal of the SWIFT system, for example, will undoubtedly bring real consequences in the field of investment and, consequently, in golden visa applications.”
Meanwhile, Russian and Belarusian citizens are bombarding the email boxes and phone lines of European investment immigration firms, asking about the fate of their EU residency aspirations and pending applications.
Papaloi said while her firm did not have Russian clients for golden visas before, they were now receiving inquiries from them.
Pestana also said she is seeing a surge in inquiries from concerned Russian and Belarusian citizens regarding the possibility of applying for the investment residency permits in Portugal.
“We have had a considerable number of clients concerned about this issue. It is a general concern for Russian and Belarusian nationals, both regarding future residence permit applications, as well as residence permits already granted,” she said.
Gouder said he too was witnessing a similar trend.
“We are aware that there are a number of Russian families and individuals who are looking for a safe place to restart their lives, as they no longer wish to bring their children up in Russia, under the current regime,” he said.
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