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EU to Strengthen Visa Controls in Response to 88,000 Golden Passports Issued

by Rahil M
0 comment

In a bid to address security concerns surrounding the controversial practice of selling golden passports the European Union (EU) has announced plans to tighten its visa controls. The move comes in the wake of a report by the European Commission that reveals the extent of the trade in Caribbean passports and the subsequent issuance of these passports to thousands of individuals, including those from countries like Iran, Russia, and China. This development has raised concerns about the potential risks related to money laundering, organized crime, tax evasion, and corruption. As a result, the EU is considering measures to mitigate these risks.

The Caribbean Passport Trade Unveiled

The European Commission’s report, published on Wednesday, provides a comprehensive overview of the Caribbean passport trade. Several countries in the Caribbean offer citizenship to foreign nationals, with prices often starting at $100,000 per individual.

Among the startling revelations, Dominica, an island nation with a population of just over 70,000, has issued 34,500 passports, more than four times the figure previously disclosed by Dominica’s government. St Kitts and Nevis, with a population of 48,000, has issued 36,700 passports, double the number estimated up to 2018.

In total, five Caribbean states – Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and Dominica – have collectively issued 88,000 passports through their citizenship by investment schemes.

The EU’s concerns regarding “golden passports” were compounded by the findings of the investigation report titled “Dominica: Passports of the Caribbean.” This in-depth analysis, conducted by The Guardian and other media organizations in collaboration with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), delved into the citizenship by investment scheme in Dominica. The popularity of these programs increased significantly after 2015 when citizens from several Caribbean states gained the privilege of traveling to most EU member states for up to 90 days annually without requiring a visa. This attracted many investors, especially from countries like China and Russia.

EU Proposals to Address “Golden Passport” Issues

The European Commission has responded to these concerns with proposals to revise regulations related to golden passports. The commission is worried that such passports may facilitate organized crime, money laundering, tax evasion, and corruption, and thus seeks to implement measures to address these issues.

The proposed changes include empowering the EU to suspend visa exemptions for countries selling citizenship to individuals without a “genuine link” to the country. Under Dominica’s current scheme, buyers are not required to have a home in the country or even visit it.

In a proposal to the European Parliament, the commission notes, “The EU should have the possibility to suspend the visa exemption for a third country that chooses to operate an investor citizenship scheme whereby citizenship is granted without any genuine link to the third country concerned.”

One of the main concerns highlighted in the report is that those obtaining second citizenship are often allowed to change their names and identities. This practice raises border control issues and hinders the enforcement of sanctions or Interpol arrest warrants.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson expressed her concerns about these “golden passports.” She highlighted that some individuals acquiring these passports pose security risks to the EU. Moreover, such individuals are often allowed to change their names and identities multiple times after obtaining new citizenship, creating additional security challenges. Johannson also addressed the issue of migration, noting that approximately 150,000 passengers have used visa-free travel arrangements to enter the EU and subsequently seek asylum. This misuse of visa-free travel was not the intended purpose of such arrangements.

Additional Concerns Raised by the Report

The report highlighted concerns regarding the rejection rates for citizenship applications in Dominica and St Kitts and Nevis. These rejection rates were remarkably low, ranging between 3% to 6%. Additionally, the short processing times for these applications, which could be as brief as two months, raised questions about the thoroughness of security screening.

The nationalities of those holding golden passports were also a point of concern. The report noted that most applicants came from countries like China, Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Nigeria, and Libya, all of which have high levels of perceived corruption. Such a concentration of passport holders from countries associated with corruption raised red flags. The report concluded by stating, “Visa-free access to the EU should not be used as a commercial commodity to be sold and bought.”

Balancing Visa-Free Travel with Security Concerns

Visa-free travel has been a significant benefit for the EU, increasing tourism and business travel. However, the EU is committed to ensuring its visa policy framework is not misused. Therefore, the EU aims to strike a balance between enabling visa-free travel and addressing the security challenges posed by golden passports.

The European Commission Vice-President, Margaritis Schinas, who is coordinating these changes, emphasized the need to sharpen the rules and establish new reasons to suspend visas. Although visa-free travel has brought many advantages, Europe must now adapt to ensure its policies are not misappropriated.

In light of these revelations, the sale of Caribbean passports through citizenship by investment schemes may undergo substantial changes. The EU is taking proactive steps to enhance security while preserving the benefits of visa-free travel, ensuring that these programs are not exploited for financial gain or misused for illegal activities.

These developments reflect the EU’s commitment to addressing potential risks, securing its borders, and safeguarding the integrity of its visa policy framework. In doing so, the EU seeks to strike a balance between facilitating travel and maintaining the highest standards of security and transparency.

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