Malta is selling EU passports for 650,000 euro (US$875,000) as part of a law passed in order to bring in cash and investment. It comes with the benefits of EU membership, including the right to reside and work in the 28-member bloc.
The plan, which was approved on Wednesday, is expected to begin within a week. It will give those who purchase the passports the right to reside in any of the other 27 member states, including Britain. They will even be eligible to become members of the European Parliament.
The island country, which has a population of 452,000, is a member of the EU and the Schengen borderless travel area, and has a visa waiver agreement with the US.
The country’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, said the plan is expected to attract “high value” individuals from around the world who can then invest in the island. Muscat estimated that 45 potential applicants would raise the country around 30 million euro.
Henley and Partners, the company that will be in charge of processing the paperwork, estimated that the deal will attract up to 300 people annually.
Those who purchase passports can then buy citizenship for their immediate family for just 25,000 euro ($33,600).
The country’s opposition has heavily criticized the new law, stating that it will work to repeal it and revoke all the passports in the future. It also questioned the process of selling the passports, arguing that the vetting of individuals wanting to buy citizenship lacks transparency because their names will not be disclosed.
But European Union spokesman Michele Cercone said that Malta and other member states have the freedom to choose how and to whom they issue passports.
Other EU member states have been relaxing citizenship and residency rules for steep fees. For example, Cyprus eased citizenship rules for those who lost more than $3.2 million by paying the levy on savings, in an attempt to stop non-resident investors from leaving the country.
In the UK, residency permits are easier to obtain for non-EU citizens who have at least $1.6 million available for private investment in the UK. Meanwhile, Spain is planning on granting foreigners residency permits if they purchase a house for more than $215,000, in an attempt to boost the country’s housing sector.