How many countries issue their own passports

EU wants to curb the sale of "golden passports"

Citizenship for cash? Malta's government openly advertises this on the Internet: Anyone who buys a property in the island state and invests 150,000 euros in Maltese government bonds can in principle be naturalized after 240 days - and thus also get the coveted passport. Applicants from Arab countries, Russia, Asia or South America don't even have to live in Malta. It is enough if you visit the island and the property you have bought there for at least five years. The highlight of the Maltese passport: It includes the right to enter the USA without a visa as a tourist.

For the first time, the EU Commission in Brussels has taken the trouble to take a closer look at the business model "citizenship for money" and also the "visa for money" programs of the EU member states. The report presented this Wednesday gives cause for concern, said EU commissioners Vera Jourova and Dimitris Avramopoulus in Brussels. Three countries - Malta, Cyprus and Bulgaria - offer their citizenship openly for sale, 20 of the 28 Member States offer permanent residence permits in return for different levels of investment.

EU Commission appeals to member states

"These countries not only sell their own citizenship, but also a citizenship for the whole of the European Union," said Justice Commissioner Jourova. The EU Commission is not sure that the necessary security checks are really sufficient in all individual cases. "Money laundering and tax evasion cannot be ruled out because some states do not require sufficient evidence of where the money for the investments for a passport or a visa comes from," criticized the Jourova. "It is legal for Member States to sell citizenship, but we cannot just do nothing."

EU Commissioner Jourova: doing nothing is not a solution either

In the EU, the Member States are solely responsible for citizenship law and the issuing of visas and residence permits. The EU commissioner responsible for internal security and immigration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, appealed to the member states to actually carry out the necessary queries in the European databases for visa control. "The problem is that there are no precise data on how many residence permits are issued via the so-called golden visas. The member states do not provide any specific information," said Dimitris Avramopoulos. The identity of the new citizens or visa holders is also often not disclosed.

Good business with passports

In a study in autumn, the non-governmental organizations "Transparency international" and "Global Witness" estimated that around 100,000 golden visas and 6,000 citizenships were issued in exchange for money in the EU. Most visas were therefore issued in Spain, Cyprus, Portugal and Great Britain. Cyprus alone is said to have earned 4.8 billion euros from the sale of its passports. Investments were attracted to the Mediterranean island, especially after the financial crisis, which hit Cyprus hard.

In its report, the EU Commission now admits for the first time that there are considerable risks associated with the generous issuing of visas and passports. Many dodgy Russian businessmen are said to be in possession of Cypriot second passports. "We would like to know who exactly is in the EU," said Justice Commissioner Jourova.

A Russian yacht in the port of Limassol, Cyprus: many new citizens come from the east

The non-governmental organization "Global Witness" is satisfied that the EU now wants to focus more on golden visas and golden passports. "The times for the golden visa industry are now harder after the EU recognizes the unacceptable security and corruption risks," said Naomi Hirst of "Global Witness" in Brussels. However, the EU Commission does not say what exactly the member states have to change. According to Hirst, the member states should follow the example of Bulgaria and temporarily suspend their golden visa programs.

Corruption around the passport

In October, two high-ranking government officials were found in Bulgaria who had false pedigree certificates issued in exchange for cash and thus the right to a Bulgarian passport. The former head of the authority for Bulgarians abroad has now been charged. He is said to have organized the large-scale fraud together with a close associate. The EU commissioner for justice said in Brussels that she assumed that the Bulgarian authorities would do everything possible to fight corruption of this kind.

According to the findings of the EU Commission, no passports are sold in Germany and there is no official golden visa. However, if you are a non-EU citizen who founds or runs a company, you can also get a permanent residence permit in Germany under certain conditions. There is no longer a minimum amount for an investment.

By the way, citizenship is particularly expensive in Austria: an applicant from Asia or Africa would have to invest ten million euros in the Alpine country to get a passport. The exact provisions are unclear, however, says the law firm "La Vida Golden Visas", which has offices in London, Dubai and Hong Kong, advising potential EU citizens on visa shopping.

Passport control at Frankfurt Airport: travel carefree around the world with EU papers