Malta could be banned from visa-free travel to USA because of passport-selling scheme

Last Updated on Friday, 4 March, 2022 at 10:12 pm by Andre Camilleri

Travelling to the United States of America could get a lot more difficult for Maltese, as two congressmen have presented a Bill which would see a country’s membership from a visa waiver programme revoked if they sell passports.

Two US congressmen – Republican Congressman Burgess Owens and Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen – on Thursday presented the ‘No Travel for Traffickers Act’ in Congress: a bill which would essentially revoke a country’s eligibility for the US Visa Waiver Programme if they have any golden passport schemes.

Malta is one of 40 countries which benefits from the programme, which allows people to travel to the US without needing to get a visa, as long as they plan to stay in the country for 90 days or less.

That could however change if this Bill passes, owing to the fact that Malta is one of the countries with a citizenship by investment scheme.

The Bill would not only ban the participation of countries that sell passports from participation in the US Visa Waiver Programme, but it would also mandate the Executive Branch to “cooperate with the United Kingdom and the European Union to eliminate Schengen area visa-free travel for countries that sell passports.”

Malta being banned from the Schengen agreement will have significant repercussions for travel to and from most European countries.

The two Congressmen said that golden passport schemes “are notoriously abused by human traffickers, international criminals, and corrupt oligarchs.”

“Russia is one of the world’s worst offenders when it comes to using these golden passport schemes as a back door into other countries,” they said.

“Human trafficking kingpins and other international criminal enterprises rely heavily on their passport purchasing power to freely travel the world, establish a foothold in multiple countries, open bank accounts, and evade accountability,” said Owens. “The No Travel for Traffickers Act addresses the severe security risks of golden passports, signalling a critical step in our efforts to isolate bad actors around the globe.”

“Giving traffickers the ability to purchase passports or extending citizenship rights allows them to travel the world and escape accountability for their crimes,” said Cohen. “Many countries sell citizenship to traffickers through phony ‘investments’ such as real estate, and this must be stopped. I am proud to join Congressman Owens in introducing the No Travel for Traffickers Act, which will help restrict this misuse of the legal process.”

“Congressmen Owens and Cohen are leading to protect our security by introducing bipartisan legislation to clamp down on the dangerous practice by some countries who sell their citizenship and passports. These so-called “golden passport” schemes are abused by criminals and traffickers from around the world, and this practice needs to come to an end.” – Marshall Billingslea, former Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing at the U.S. Department of the Treasury

Known as the Individual Investor Programme (IIP), Malta’s golden passport scheme was launched in 2013 and has been a topic of controversy ever since, with a number of investigations – including the recent Passport Papers which this newsroom was part of – showing how the people who eventually bought Maltese citizenship had little to no links with the island.

Malta is currently facing infringement procedures over the scheme from the European Commission.

This week, citizenship applications by people from Russia and Belarus were suspended owing to the war which Russia has started in Ukraine – but this only came after significant local and international pressure, and after almost a week of the government staunchly defending the scheme.

- Advertisement -