Since 2016, the American political process has focused on the discussion of immigration: who should be allowed to immigrate, when and how people can immigrate or where they can immigrate to. On the other side of the world, in countries like Malta or Cyprus, the discussion has been more about whose money can immigrate. In Cyprus, the “golden visa” program, otherwise known as immigrant investor programs, allows foreign citizens to immigrate to Cyprus in exchange for a large investment in the nation. Recently, Al Jazeera released a collection of files known as The Cyprus Papers, revealing that the Cypriot government had “sold” passports to known fugitives of the law. The papers showed that high-level government officials were implicit in the sale of visas, and their release has had a ripple effect within the Cypriot government. The golden visa program has generated around $8 billion for Cyprus and a similar amount for Malta, but the fast-and-loose system could have negative repercussions for both of the nations and their neighbors.
Other nations also have golden visa programs, notably the United States and the United Kingdom. The U.S. necessitates a $900,000 investment in an area of high unemployment or double that amount in another region, though this program only guarantees green-card citizenship to the U.S. The U.K.’s program is similar, though a $2.6 million investment is needed and only grants the right to apply for citizenship in five years. The main issue with the programs of Malta and Cyprus is this: citizenship to both nations also provides citizenship in the entire European Union. This entails free travel across any nation within the EU and the ability to live in any EU nation.
Cyprus requires a $2.36 million investment for full citizenship while Malta requires $1.36 million. The systems have already been shown to be easy to abuse: Low Taek Jho, a Malaysian financier accused of being the mastermind of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal in which he channeled millions of government dollars to his own bank account, was recently stripped of his Cypriot passport. The law firm in Cyprus that has been handling a majority of gold visas for the country was founded by the current president, who has been fighting to defend the program from foreign criticism. Al Jazeera undercover reporters even recorded a visa provider stating their willingness to help a fictional money launderer in obtaining a visa.
The Maltese/Cypriot program has a simple solution: the visas should solely apply to the nations themselves. Now that the U.K. is beginning to formalize Brexit, applications to both Cyprus and Malta have skyrocketed. The ability for any person, even those sought by foreign police or intelligence services, to gain full access to dozens of nations and border crossings through their own pocket is a power that should not be afforded to anyone. If the program were forced to adopt further restrictions, such as those that are naturally imposed on the American and English versions, the risk of the program would plummet. Even if Cyprus or Malta didn’t begin to more thoroughly examine applicants, criminal applicants wouldn’t be able to move across borders like they are now.