EU seeks end to golden passport schemes, halt to sales of visas to Russians

EU flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels
European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

BRUSSELS, March 28 (Reuters) - The European Commission called on EU governments on Monday to end national programmes to sell citizenship to investors, also known as golden passports schemes, and urged them to suspend the sale of visas to Russians and Belarusians.

The move follows a new push from the European Parliament to shrink and regulate the multi-billion-euro citizenship and visa industry which the EU has long considered a security risk.

It comes amid concerns that people hit by European Union sanctions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine may be holders of EU golden visas or passports. read more

"Some Russian or Belarusian nationals who are subject to sanctions or are significantly supporting the war in Ukraine might have acquired EU citizenship or privileged access to the EU, including to travel freely in the Schengen area, under these schemes," the European Commission said on Monday.

Since the start of the Russian aggression, which Moscow calls a special operation, the EU has blacklisted nearly 700 top politicians, businessmen and military staff accused of supporting the Kremlin read more .

The Commission urged an immediate end to existing national programmes for the sale of passports. Currently only Malta, Cyprus and Bulgaria have such schemes and they have all committed to ending them. Bulgaria's parliament has recently voted to end its programme.

Brussels also said governments should check whether sanctioned people were holding a golden passport or visa they had issued.

The European Commission said it did not know whether sanctioned people were among the beneficiaries of the programme. A spokesman declined to clarify whether it had asked EU states to provide lists of people who had bought visas or passports.

Countries should determine whether to annul those passports and should immediately withdraw residence permits, the Commission said.

Several EU countries run golden visa schemes and have had golden passports programmes.

The Commission refrained from calling for the end of golden visa programmes, but urged strict checks and asked EU governments to suspend the granting of residence permits to Russians and Belarusians.

(This story corrects to Bulgaria's parliament instead of Cyprus' parliament, paragraph 6)

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Edmund Blair, Philippa Fletcher and Grant McCool

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Francesco leads a team of reporters in Vietnam that covers top financial and political news in the fast-growing southeast Asian country with a focus on supply chains and manufacturing investments in several sectors, including electronics, semiconductors, automotive and renewables. Before Hanoi, Francesco worked in Brussels on EU affairs. He was also part of Reuters core global team that covered the COVID-19 pandemic and participated in investigations into money laundering and corruption in Europe. He is an eager traveler, always keen to put on a backpack to explore new places.