Malta selling themselves as island escape for the elite

Motivated in part by economic stress, and in part by what some call crass opportunism, the idyllic island 50 miles south of Sicily is selling citizenship for $880,000 in cash and $677,000 in property and investments to applicants 18 or older willing to pay the price.
The Maltese prime minister, Joseph Muscat, has estimated that the program, which is aimed at attracting well-heeled residents from abroad, could bring in $1.35 billion in the next five years, providing welcome financing for schools, health care and jobs.
For the wealthy newcomers, Maltese citizenship offers many benefits, beyond the ability to park their yachts in the azure waters of one of Europe’s most alluring destinations.
Being a citizen of Malta, which is part of the European Union’s passport-free zone, will confer the right to travel among the union’s 27 other member states without border formalities. A newly minted Maltese citizen will also be able to live and work in another European Union country, and will gain the right to visa-free travel to 69 non-European Union countries, including the United States.
Critics accuse the government of pawning the national birthright. So far, those said to be interested in the passports include a former Formula 1 champion, a Chinese billionaire, an international pop star, a member of a prominent Persian Gulf royal family, an American press magnate and a South American soccer player, according to The Times of Malta, a daily newspaper.
While all European Union countries have the right to peddle citizenship to whomever they want, the practice is relatively rare and the union’s justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, expressed dismay last month, telling the Maltese that European citizenship “must not be up for sale.”
Others fear that the proud and picturesque island — with 411,277 citizens, one of the world’s most densely populated countries — risks following in the footsteps of fellow European Union member Cyprus, which has come under criticism for attracting tycoons looking for a convenient place, preferably one with sun and sand, to protect their assets from tax collectors.
Under pressure from European Union officials in Brussels, Malta this week agreed to require foreigners seeking to buy Maltese passports to be residents for at least one year. It has also vowed to carefully vet applicants. Yet initial plans to limit to 1,800 the number of passports granted have been scrapped.
For all the fuss and red-faced reprimands of Brussels bureaucrats, Malta is just one of several countries seeking to woo rich foreigners by offering residency or citizenship.
Cyprus recently slashed the amount of investment required to be eligible for citizenship, to $4.06 million from $13.5 million. It is also offering citizenship to foreigners who lost at least €3 million during the recent bailout crisis. The Caribbean island federation of St. Kitts and Nevis offers citizenship for those who can invest $250,000. Portugal and Belgium offer residency permits leading to citizenship in exchange for big investments. Crisis-hit Spain offers residency permits to foreigners who buy homes worth more than $260,000, with the aim of drawing Chinese and Russian investment.
Nevertheless, the Maltese scheme has attracted scathing criticism from those who say that a warm welcome for the superrich is in stark contrast to the cold reception given to thousands of poor African migrants who have washed up on Malta’s beaches over the past few years, only to find themselves forced to live in grim detention centers, bereft of citizenship.
“Refugees who have been here for years and are paying their taxes and working hard don’t have Maltese passports,” said Herman Grech, the head of media at the Times of Malta, a daily newspaper. “At least have the guts to give passports to everyone. It is completely xenophobic and cynical to only give it to rich people.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: