More than a year after the European Commission recommendation, Italy has decided to halt its golden visa program for citizens from Russia and Belarus. Over a year ago the European Commission urged EU member nations to suspend their investor visa initiatives in response Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The rationale behind this advisory was linked to concerns that individuals “subject to sanctions or significantly supporting the war in Ukraine” might exploit these programs to gain EU citizenship or privileged access to the Schengen area’s free movement.
Now more than ever, in the face of war, we must do everything to ensure that Russians and Belarusians under sanctions and those supporting Putin’s war of aggression cannot buy their way into the EU.Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs
The investor visa programs, often colloquially referred to as ‘golden visas,’ provide individuals with the opportunity to acquire residency permits through avenues such as property investment, substantial capital injections, or charitable contributions. For EU member states, this also opens doors to the privileges of residency within the bloc, including the coveted freedom of movement across member nations.
Under Italy’s program, eligible candidates could gain a two-year residency permit, extendable up to three years, by making various investments. These encompassed a €2 million investment in Italian government bonds, a €500,000 investment in an Italian limited company, a €250,000 investment in an Italian innovative startup, or a €1 million donation towards philanthropic efforts in Italy. After a decade, individuals could even become eligible for citizenship.
In 2022, the Italian government issued 32 two-year “investor” visas to Russian applicants out of a total of 36 applications. This count notably surpassed the combined total for investors from non-EU countries, including the UK, the US, and 23 others.
Italy’s move to suspend its golden visa program places it among the few remaining EU countries to still have such schemes in operation. The European Commission has expressed concerns about the potential security risks, lack of transparency, and compatibility with EU values associated with these programs. This stance has prompted several member states, like Ireland and Portugal, to dismantle their own residence-by-investment and golden visa initiatives.