The EU Commission has today published its much anticipated report on Investor Citizenship and Residence Schemes in the European Union.
The Report looks at selected schemes across the EU, focussing in particular on Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta which (together with Austria, not covered substantively in the Report) offer citizenship routes for those making significant investments in the country.
The Report rightly highlights the continued importance of the highest standards of regulatory practices within these programs – compliance and due diligence are critical to the integrity of such programs and cannot be compromised. Investment migration schemes must indeed be subject to stringent due diligence checks and not be at risk of being undermined by illicit practices. The industry itself is fully committed to achieving this and welcomes the opportunity for constructive engagement created by this Report.
At the same time, we must also be alive to the benefit Investor Programs bring to participating member states for that engagement to deliver meaningful outcomes. Cyprus, for example, has seen a real economic benefit from its Citizenship Investment Program (CIP). In its December 2018 report, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) noted that real GDP in Cyprus grew by 4 percent in 2018, following an increase of 4.2 percent in 2017. Growth was primarily driven by higher foreign investment in the construction sector, in which the CIP played an important role together with continued strength in professional and tourism services. The IMF reports that Malta’s Individual Investor Program (IIP), which features heavily in the Commission Report, has generated significant fiscal revenues. Contributions to the Treasury and the NDSF rose from EUR 50 million in 2015 to EUR 172million in 2016 (0.5 and 1.7 percent of GDP, respectively).
This is not simply a question of the competency of states within the EU, but this impacts the nationals of member states - individuals worried about Brexit have similarly looked at investor programs in countries in mainland Europe driven by the uncertainties created by prolonged and as yet inconclusive negotiations.
A balance is needed to ensure that appropriate checks are made so legitimate people can continue to make welcome investments and benefit from these programs and there needs to be a greater understanding of why people use these schemes.
It is all too easy to make blanket assumptions of illegitimacy or tax evasion (in fact tax residence is often quite separate to immigration residence) and no doubt there will be much academic debate generated by the Report on the concepts of citizenship and residence. The reality is one of an industry committed to the highest standards of ethical practice and, for the most part, similarly minded applicants. There are nonetheless improvements to be made and we hope that this Report precipitates a period of constructive engagement towards a common goal of best practice and social and economic benefit for the EU, its member states and nationals and the broader industry globally.