More than a million people have sought refuge in Europe over the past few years; some will eventually become citizens. Still more have moved for work and the promise of ultimately securing a permanent place. But a select group does something else entirely: They pay. A lot.
Over the past decade, some European Union member states have earned tens of billions of dollars overall by selling residency and, in some cases, citizenship to the super rich. But critics say that the opaque nature of these schemes makes them vulnerable to corruption. Now the EU is getting involved, telling its member states to increase scrutiny of applicants vying for these “golden visas.”
An individual with residency in an EU member state can travel across much of the bloc without additional paperwork, while those with citizenship can work and travel anywhere within the EU, as well as to non-EU countries that have visa-free arrangements with its members. In its first report on golden-visa schemes, the EU said Wednesday that elements of the programs heighten the risks to security, and open the door to money laundering and tax evasion across the bloc.
Supporters of the programs say that most of the applicants are not untoward. Perhaps more important, the visas have been a financial boon for the EU countries that offer them. In all, golden-visa schemes have pulled in an estimated 25 billion euros, or $28 billion, over the past decade, according to a joint report released last October by Global Witness and Transparency International. Of the bloc’s 28 member states, 20 sell residence permits for prices ranging from the hundreds of thousands of euros (a Greek residence permit can be had for a 250,000-euro investment in property) to millions (British residency starts at 2 million pounds, or 2.3 million euros). Three countries—Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Malta—also sell citizenship. But the screening requirements for the potential investors vary drastically by country, prompting worries in Brussels, and beyond.