What does the reform of the Visa Information System mean for “Golden Visa” programmes?
In January 2019 the European Commission published a report on the risks of investor citizenship and residence schemes in the EU. One of the arguments used by the European Commission against CBI and RBI programmes was that they could undermine EU’s efforts to secure its territory as RBI/CBI beneficiaries would not be subjected to the same type of control as other third country nationals crossing EU borders. On March 13th 2019, the European Parliament voted the amendment of the Visa Information System (VIS) which will now include “Golden Visas”.
The VIS is an instrument to exchange data for short-stay visa applications between the Schengen EU Member States and the four Schengen Associate countries. Malta is part of the VIS. Moreover, national authorities and Europol may request access to data entered into the VIS in order to prevent, detect and investigate terrorist and criminal offences. According to the EU report, Malta and Cyprus are using Europol databases to undertake their due diligence checks. Additionally, the European Criminal Records Information Exchange System, created in 2012 to facilitate the exchange of information on criminal records throughout the EU, is already in place and can be used by all EU Member States. Moreover, the Schengen Information System (SIS) is the most widely used and largest information sharing system for security and border management in Europe. SIS allows national authorities, such as the police and border guards, to see whether a third country national has previously been refused entry into the Schengen area. Only Cyprus is not connected to SIS.
In our response to the EU report, we already underlined that Malta specified on their official CBI website that their due diligence checks are already using EU’s centralized information systems. In our response we added that before obtaining citizenship through a CBI programme, a third country national must be a resident of Malta and Bulgaria for a minimum of twelve months. In this case, EU rules are applied, including the sharing of biometric information. As mentioned in the report itself, EU Member States are obliged under EU Law to carry out security checks before issuing a residency permit including using the SIS system. This is true for Malta as a Schengen State but also for Bulgaria, which are participating in SIS even though they are not yet a Schengen country. This also means that all residency permit granted under RBI schemes proposed by EU Member States have to follow EU Law.
Moreover, in our response to the report we already mentioned the Proposal for a Regulation on the Visa Information System that foresaw to include data on residence permits, arguing that this could further secure RBI and CBI schemes. This proposal has now been adopted and includes the following elements:
compulsory security checks across all EU databases to expose applicants using several identities and detect everyone posing security or irregular migration threats;
long-stay visas, including the “golden visas”, and residence permits to be added to the database to close security information gaps;
the age for obtaining fingerprints and facial images of minors goes from 12 to 6 years to support the identification of missing children; People aged 70 and more will not need to give their fingerprints;
eased access for Europol and law enforcement authorities to VIS data to find victims of crime or support their investigations into major crime or terrorism.
In other words, the main improvements resulting from the amendment of the VIS are the introduction of the possibility to conduct a cross-database security check making the detection of potential criminals or fraudsters; the better data and information exchange between Schengen countries; and a clear control of all entries and stay in a Member State including though a “golden visa” programme. In the facts, this might not lead to substantial changes in the due diligence processes in place in EU Member States when assessing applicants to benefit from “golden visas” programme but it will surely help the EU to close the existing knowledge gap existing on CBI/RBI programmes and their implementation in the UE.
Author: Dr Fanny Tittel-Mosser