Status of Malta’s immigration programs in light of EU scrutiny

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November 11, 2021

Status of Malta’s immigration programs in light of EU scrutiny

Maltese immigration professionals are hopeful that Malta’s investment immigration programs will withstand the ongoing pressure from the EU, which wants the country to halt the programs completely. Many also believe that the demand from investors will increase with time. 

Nicholas Gouder, who is a licensed Malta Individual Investor Program agent, said he was not seeing any sign that the government was planning to halt the program anytime soon.

“The government is currently processing new applications under both Malta’s Naturalization for Exceptional Services by Direct Investment program, which leads to citizenship after 12 or 36 months, and also under the Malta Permanent Residence Program,” Gouder said.

He also pointed out that other EU countries too were continuing to offer similar investment immigration programs and it did not make sense why Malta alone would halt its programs.

“I don’t think there will be any further changes – the government has made it clear that it will stand its ground on the matter, and, therefore, I don’t expect any changes, neither would I expect any of the programs to be shut down soon. The majority of other EU countries offer some form of RBI or CBI programs to investors,” Gouder added.

 

INCREASED DUE DILIGENCE MEASURES ADDED TO MALTA’S PROGRAMS

Wayne Pisani, who is a partner and head of regulatory and compliance at Grant Thornton, said Malta’s investment immigration programs, such as the Naturalization for Exceptional Services by Direct Investment program, now have comprehensive transparent and robust procedures in place.

“Maltese residency and citizenship requirements have evolved and been developed over a significant number of years, adapting to new realities as was the case with the recent introduction of the Nomad visa and residency options for founders of start-ups,” Pisani said.   

While the Maltese residency and citizenship regulatory framework caters to the investment immigration requirements of foreign investors, the lawyer said EU’s pressure on the Maltese program was having an adverse effect. 

“The EU’s pressure in relation to Malta’s immigration programs has certainly derailed potential applicants to look into other programs for relocation to Malta,” he said.

Last September, the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, singled out the Maltese investment immigration program, saying “it is of utmost importance to stop that procedure because we should not forget that the golden passports potentially enable the person to have access to 27 member states in the European Union.”

 

OTHER FACTORS AT PLAY: PANDEMIC, BREXIT

The Maltese investment immigration professionals also pointed out that apart from the pressures from the EU, the pandemic as well as Brexit was impacting on the country’s investment immigration programs.

Gouder noted a decline in the interest in Malta’s investment immigration during the ongoing pandemic.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we have definitely seen a decrease in interest and applications – whether this was simply a result of the pandemic or EU pressure is not clear. Having said that, now that the travel situation is slowly getting back to normal, we are, once again seeing an increase in demand for Malta’s programs. This would suggest that the decline we had seen during 2020, was a result of the pandemic and the travel restrictions which this brought about,” he said.

Pisani agreed that the pandemic was a big factor and investment immigration firms like his had no other option but to adapt to the evolving situation.

“Needless to say, the pandemic has to a certain extent created uncertainty, particularly with travelling to Malta being restricted for a substantial period, let alone moving and settling down in Malta. Having become part of our everyday life, circumstances have left us no choice but to adapt to the reality that we are faced with,” he said.

He also noted that the Maltese authorities adapted with the new situation and introduced new steps such as special residence permits for digital nomads.

Pisani added that even before the pandemic, the UK’s Brexit situation too was putting pressure on the Maltese investment immigration program.

“Furthermore, despite the excellent relationship Malta has maintained with the United Kingdom, the effects of Brexit were also not on our side,” he said.

“With an estimate of 13,000 UK expatriates who have chosen to reside in Malta, local authorities were forced to adapt to the changes and uncertainty caused by the United Kingdom leaving the EU, consequently creating room for new opportunities.”

 

This article was first posted on UGlobal