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“Golden visas” to also come under the microscope

December 4, 2019 at 9:27am
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Not only “golden passports’’ but also residence permits to wealthy foreigners are set to come under the microscope in Cyprus, informed sources told Phileleftheros.

The residence permits or “golden visas” were granted through a programme running in parallel with that of citizenship by investment – the one that Cyprus has recently come under a lot of criticism both at home and abroad.

The Interior Ministry is currently investigating all investors who were granted Cypriot citizenship before 2018, when tougher eligibility criteria were put in place.

On November 6, the Council of Ministers revoked a total of 26 passports concerning nine different investment cases. And final decisions on a small number of additional revocations will be taken before the year’s end.

At the same time, some 5,500 cases of foreigners from third countries who have obtained a permanent residence permit in Cyprus in recent years will also undergo a thorough screening after the passport procedure is completed, the sources said.

The residence permits were granted under an accelerated immigration licence process that ran in parallel with the island’s controversial investment scheme.

There are specific criteria under which one is qualified for a permanent residence in the Republic of Cyprus. The basic one is to have acquired new property on the island worth over €300,000, along with a deposit of at least €30,000 thousand in a Cypriot banking institution which holds it for a period of three years.

An additional criterion is for an applicant to prove that he/she have an annual guaranteed income of €30,000 that increases in accordance with the number of dependent children or parents. Unlike the citizenship programme, this does not allow beneficiaries to alienate any acquired property. In case of an alienation they will have to either buy a new property or be deprived of their immigration permit.

The vast majority of those who have obtained permanent residence permits in Cyprus come from China, Russia, Lebanon, Ukraine and Iran. As regards criteria on the quality of applicants, the most important one is a certified clear criminal record, along with certification that they will not be employed in any way in Cyprus.

Inspections are carried out by the Republic’s security authorities as well as through the database of Interpol. In parallel, KYC and AML indirect checks are carried out by the banks where the €30,000 deposit is made.

The imminent checks to be carried out by the state will cover all aspects of every applicant. That is, if he/she has a changed personal status, whether he/she has been on a list of sanctions, if he/she is wanted by police, and whether he/she has been convicted after obtaining a permanent residence permit in Cyprus.

One of the advantages for applicants of this programme is that the thorough examination will not take longer than two months.

After the recent furore over the investment programme and its questioned sustainablity, the permanent residence by investment scheme may now get increased interest from third country nationals. For example, current tensions in Lebanon may increase the interest of residents from the neighbouring country.

This possible development could be positively boosted through a successful entry of Cyprus into the Schengen visa programme as well as after the island is added on the US visa-waiver one.

By Antonis Antoniou