By Uglobal Staff
Migration professionals are calling for a balanced approach to deal with the complex issue of RCBI programs in Europe after the European Commission upped the ante against all EU member states offering investment immigration options and recommended a total ban on all immigration paths that lead to so called golden passports.
As the European Commission issued a statement last month urging all EU member states to immediately end all CBI programs, it also called for even stricter checks on all residency by investment programs in the union.
Nicky Gouder, who is a Community Malta Agency licensed agent and a partner at Seed Consultancy, said there is a need to look more closely into the issue of investment in time versus money when examining the issue of citizenship by investment programs.
“Most countries, whether European or other, have some form of path to citizenship - whether this is as a result of a number of years spent in a country, by descent, birth or investment. The more ‘financially aggressive’ paths are labelled ‘citizenship by investment’ programs and are being called on to be terminated, even though most of the paths require an investment, whether in time or financial,” Gouder said.
He urged that perhaps the right CBI solution could be found in a balanced approach.
“Rather than imposing an immediate termination on CBI programs, the EU and member states should agree on the minimum conditions which need to be present for citizenship to be granted. It seems to be acceptable by the EU, for someone to spend five years in a country and be granted citizenship as a result of becoming so closely integrated in that country, but it is not acceptable for someone to invest in that same country and be granted citizenship as a result of that financial investment. Since we got to this point, there needs to be an agreement on the minimum number of months which individuals and families are expected to stay in a country for them to be granted citizenship, possibly with a lower level of financial investment,” he said.
“There needs to be a balance between the investment in time that an individual or family are expected to make in that specific country, and the financial investment,” Gouder added.
The European Commission, however, doesn’t seem to be open for a debate on the issue. On April 6, it threatened to take Malta to the EU’s Court of Justice if it failed to end its CBI program within two months.
Portugal golden visa program set for reforms
Immigration consultant Sara Sousa Rebolo, who is associated with Caiado Guerreiro – a law firm based in Lisbon, said the strong recommendations against the RCBI programs was expected, especially after the ongoing Russian invasion in Ukraine saw a renewed urgency to end all such investment immigration options in the continent.
“The reaction of the European Commission was long to be expected, given not only the latest events and the excess of media coverage on the subject that ended up transforming it into a political weapon, but also, due to the very moment that the European Union is experiencing, in which it seeks to strengthen the links between member states and concerted responses to the challenges posed by today's society,” Rebolo said.
However, she doubted whether ending the programs would necessarily help in thwarting the EU’s perceived dangers from RCBI.
“Restricting direct and unconnected access to European citizenship is a way of protecting European culture and reinforcing its value, but it must be understood that it does not, by itself, prevent money laundering or terrorist financing,” she said.
Rebolo said Portugal seemed to be headed towards a complete reform of its golden visa program.
“In Portugal we are facing a unique moment. We have a recent elected government with political majority, a law authorizing to extinguish the Immigration Office, mobility agreements for Portuguese-speaking countries that need to be transposed into the immigration law, amendments to the golden visa program that still lack regulation and a resigning of the National Director of the Immigration Office.
“This means that, taking advantage of the European recommendation, the Portuguese government could actually implement a serious reform of the immigration system and adjust it to reality. It is necessary to remember that the Portuguese Program is an RBI and not a CBI and that it requires, in accessing nationality, connections with European culture, either through the demonstration of knowledge of the Portuguese language, or through the associated renewals. Nevertheless, it is a pleasure to welcome a reform that would address European fears - namely by reinforcing the compliance made on investors - in order to credit, once and for all, these programs and allow them to do what they are meant to do - attracting investment and boosting the economy under a stable and functional regime,” Rebolo said.
However, Portuguese immigration consultant Tiago Gali Macedo, who serves as the managing partner of NEXT/Gali Macedo & Associados, said that Portugal’s golden visa program already complies with most of EU’s conditions and the new government in the country would not have to implement many changes.
“From our firm’s perspective, we believe that the Portuguese RBI program (ARI/Golden Visa) already complies with several of the measures and proposals presented by the European Parliament to the European Commission, such as: compliance and security checks of applicants, EU directives (all six of them) for regulations against money laundering and enhancement of terrorism; minimum staying periods; eight possible investment options (etc.)… In this sense, we believe the Portuguese government shouldn’t need to implement many changes in the program,” Macedo told Uglobal.
Macedo said the main impact of the EU’s call for a ban would be on countries offering CBI programs.
“We believe that this is a highly sensitive matter since a ban on the CBI programs will have mainly a considerable impact on the economies of Cyprus and Malta, and not as much on Bulgaria since their program was not fully active for some time now,” he said.
He also said more countries should go down the residency by investment route instead of direct citizenship.
“We believe that in terms of granting EU citizenship, which conducts EU rights and protection, countries shall privilege RBI programs that may conduct one to be eligible for citizenship, instead of direct citizenship programs. The reason for this opinion is that, during the residency periods, holders will be able to work and get emotional connections to national communities, EU countries, and EU values as a whole. Thus, those emotional connections are an essential aspect of EU citizenship,” he told Uglobal.
Focus urged on reforms, not ending programs
Greek immigration consultant Mary Tsiganou, who is the vice president of Synergia SA, questioned the motives of the recent steps taken by the European Commission, pointing out the fact that most clients have nothing to do with the ongoing geopolitical situation involving Ukraine and Russia.
She urged instead for a renewed focus on whether RCBI programs were following all the rules.
“The main goal of European immigration industry should be focused on carrying out serious checks on compliance with the KYC rules and the strong commitment of the member states to ensure a healthy and developmental investment framework, open to all those investors who meet all the security clearances and the extensive due diligence procedures,” she said.
Tsiganou also pointed out the advantages of residency by investment programs in Europe.
“RBI program encourage exchange of knowhow, business experience and talents. Attracting talents from other cultural backgrounds can promote economic dynamism and ideas for innovations. However, I agree that a more comprehensive vetting framework should be in place to ensure only those who can contribute to the economic and social goals of the programs and the European principles,” she said.
She added that Greece was already complying with the EU’s recommendations to restrict access to Russian nationals.
On Feb. 28, the Greek government suspended residence permits by investment for Russian nationals. “As such, Russian nationals will not be permitted to renew or apply for the residence permits through the Golden Visa scheme. Therefore, Greece is fully aligned to the recommendations of the EU Commission to member states,” Tsiganou added.
Vasiliki Papaloi, who is an attorney with Papalois & Associates Law Firm in Athens, said the Greek government should resist the European Commission.
“This should not be accepted…Government should stand against such a decision and should keep proceeding with these programs as always in accordance with the law,” she said.
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