UK ministers are under growing pressure to intervene against plans by the island of Malta to sell EU passports for 650,000 euros, allowing buyers immediate rights of residency in all member states.
Several EU states already give wealthy foreigners a fast-track to citizenship on the back of a government bond or property investment. But the new scheme – due to be formally opened by the Maltese government later this month – is unique in offering an instant passport to approved applicants with no requirement to be resident in the country beforehand.
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The plans have already prompted a backlash from UK and European politicians warning of a risk to national security, while immigration experts point out the threat to the UK's own "investor visa" programme. This has been increasingly popular with the Chinese as well as Middle Eastern investors seeking a safe haven from the Arab Spring.
David Hanson, shadow immigration minister, said he had "serious concerns" about the Maltese proposal and had tabled parliamentary questions to find out what steps the Home Office had taken to oppose it. "This risks being a backdoor route to reside anywhere in the EU which is not a tight or appropriate immigration policy", he told the Financial Times.
Manfred Weber, vice-chairman of the European People's party, the centre-right bloc in the European Parliament, complained of the particular threat facing those in the passport-free Schengen area.