Commission proposes partial suspension of visa waiver agreement with Vanuatu to address risks linked to golden passport schemes
The Commission is proposing a partial suspension of the application of the agreement with the Republic of Vanuatu allowing citizens of Vanuatu to travel to the EU without a visa for stays of up to 90 days in any 180-period. This is necessary to mitigate the risks posed by Vanuatu's investor citizenship (or “golden passports”) schemes on the security of the EU and its Member States. Yesterday's proposal follows extensive exchanges with the authorities of Vanuatu, including prior warnings of the possibility of suspension. The schemes allow citizens of third countries to obtain Vanuatu citizenship – and thus also visa-free access to the EU – in exchange for a minimum investment of 130,000 USD.
Based on careful monitoring of the schemes and information received from Vanuatu, the Commission has concluded that Vanuatu's investor citizenship schemes present serious deficiencies and security failures, with:
- The granting of citizenship to applicants listed in Interpol's databases, which raises concerns about the reliability of the security screening;
- An average application processing time too short to allow for thorough screening; as well as no systematic exchange of information with the applicants' country of origin or main past residence before citizenship is granted;
- A very low rejection rate: up until 2020, only one application was rejected;
- The countries of origin of successful applicants including countries that are visa-required for the EU, with some that are typically excluded from other citizenship schemes.
As a result, Vanuatu's investor citizenship schemes allow individuals who would otherwise need a visa to travel to the EU to bypass the regular Schengen visa procedure and the in-depth assessment of individual migratory and security risks it entails.
Additionally, investor citizenship schemes operated by Vanuatu since 2015 are commercially promoted with the expressed purpose of granting visa-free access to the EU, while the visa waiver agreement is not aimed at allowing visa-required travellers to circumvent the visa requirement by acquiring Vanuatu citizenship.
The Commission has concluded on this basis that Vanuatu's investor citizenship schemes present heightened risks for the security of the EU and its Member States and is therefore proposing a partial and proportionate suspension of the visa waiver agreement. The suspension would be applicable to all holders of ordinary passports issued as of 25 May 2015, when Vanuatu started issuing a substantial number of passports in exchange for investment. These holders would therefore no longer be allowed to travel to the EU without a visa (but would retain the possibility to apply for a visa to visit the EU).
It is now for the Council to examine this proposal and decide whether to partially suspend the visa waiver agreement. The European Parliament must be kept informed. If the Council decides to partially suspend the agreement, Vanuatu should be notified at least two months before the suspension is applied. During the period of partial suspension, the Commission must establish an enhanced dialogue with Vanuatu, with a view to eliminating or substantially mitigating the security risks for the EU and its Member States. Should Vanuatu introduce sufficient measures to this effect, the partial suspension should be lifted.
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