Upon ALDE’s initiative, MEPs today debated the ‘golden visa’ programs run by at least 12 Member States and attracting criticism from others. In practice, these so-called ‘residency-by-investment’ schemes allow wealthy people to buy their way into the EU and skip immigration queues in return for a sizeable investment, thereby making them particularly vulnerable to corruption and money laundering.

Some countries offer a passport directly to the investors and their family, other countries issue temporary or permanent residency permits, which immediately grant freedom of movement and voting rights to the beneficiaries.

In order to address the problem, Liberals and Democrats demand more transparency from Member States in providing all information on their respective schemes. Just as it is the case for asylum and labour migration with harmonised European criteria and procedures for granting a residency status, similar transparent standards must be created for the golden visa schemes. Furthermore, this complex issue has far-reaching implications for European security and the rule of law, including the dubious operations of foreign oligarchs, the murder of investigative journalists attempting to uncover the truth and criminal networks trying to escape the Interpol.

Sophie in ‘t Veld, ALDE Group’s First Vice President who initiated the plenary debate on the subject commented:

“The biggest weakness of the various golden visa programs run by a number of EU Member States is the lack of proper background checks run on the applicants, often outsourced to private companies. While some governments are busy building up a fortress Europe, they are rolling out the red carpet for wealthy criminals. We are talking here about state-facilitated corruption and money-laundering. Golden visa schemes need a thorough revision with common EU rules to carry out reliable back ground checks and screening of applicants. Europe must close its back door, which is wide open to crime and corruption.”

Gerard Deprez, Member of the LIBE Committee added:

“How is it possible that European citizenship can simply be bought in one Member State and then used to circulate freely in the single market? Only a comprehensive review of the long-term residency critera can address this situation. Time has come to harmonise the rules and take our collective responsibility.”

Cecilia Wikström, Chair of the PETI Committee further argued:

“The special programs in many Member States to issue golden visas undermine our efforts in the fight against organised crime and corruption. The system does not only contribute to tax evasion and money laundering, it also very unfair, because only very rich people from third countries can benefit from all the opportunities that a European passport brings.

In the meantime, poor people continue to risk their lives on dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean, in the search for new life chances. The opportunity to stay in the EU must depend on the individual’s needs and merits, not on how rich the person is.

I urge the European Commission to scrutinise how these programs are used. Transparency must increase. The rules must be harmonised. And rich and poor must be treated equally.”