I’m off on hols to Sri Lanka on Wednesday. Go on, check out the weather forecast for Galle, and then weep with envy – we’re talking 30˚ and wall-to-wall sunshine. To secure my week in the sun, I had to apply for a visa. It was all very simple, just an online application and the handing over of about £25, because it is a standard 30-day tourist visa. It is not – drum roll, please – a Golden Visa.
This is apparently the new name for what I used to call “citizenship for sale” or “passports for purchase”. The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project defines them thus: “For a sizeable investment, wealthy people can zip to the front of the immigration line for a growing list of attractive countries”. And a couple of weeks ago they published a series of stories detailing the availability of Golden Visas in seven EU Member States – Austria, Cyprus, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Portugal – as well as looking at Golden Visa schemes that are proposed in Armenia and Montenegro. Transparency International is – unsurprisingly – concerned about the migration of Golden Visa schemes from standalone palm-fringed islands to the EU, as it fears that “European countries are selling access to the Schengen visa-free travel area, and even EU citizenship, to foreign investors with little scrutiny, transparency or due diligence”. The European Parliament warned about the risks of Golden Visa programmes back in January 2014, and the European Commission is due to publish a report on the impact of Golden Visa schemes later this year.
From an MLRO perspective, when looking at a client’s shiny new passport, it is as well to be aware of the countries that operate these schemes, and perhaps to ask how (and why) he managed to obtain his new nationality. Mind you, with Brexit looming, I might just consider communing with my own inner Austrian or Hungarian… if only I could afford it.