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Investment Migration Council Defends “Golden Visas”, Says Ethics Code Vital

Tom Burroughes

15 October 2018

Responding to calls by European Union lawmakers and officials for tighter controls on so-called “golden visas”, a global body that says it champions best practice in this field has defended the growing market.

In recent weeks the noise level of criticism around these systems has increased amid concerns about how they allegedly might enable money laundering. The EU has seen a spate of scandals in jurisdictions including Denmark, Estonia, Latvia and Malta, although it isn't clear that holders of such paid-for passports were involved in such cases. In Europe’s largest financial centre, London, there have been concerns down the years that the UK’s Tier 1 Investor Visa regime could be misused. (Source: , October 2015). 

“Having any unchecked investment migration programme is open to abuse, and without oversight and a rigid code of ethics it leaves itself open to claims of corruption, or the potential to circumvent global regulation,” Bruno L’ecuyer, chief executive, is due to publish a report on such programmes by the end of 2018.  Last week, the executive arm of the EU said it will provide guidance to EU states on how to manage these schemes.

At the heart of the debate is one about globalisation, and whether citizenship/residency should a commodity that can be bought and sold. To some extent, the debate mirrors controversy about the role of “offshore tax havens” – to use a term employed by those hostile to such places – in facilitating cross-border exchanges of money. As with offshore centres, defenders of golden visas say they enable people targeted by rapacious governments to flee from harm’s way and invest their money where it can be more productively used. Historically, businessmen and women as varied as those from Jewish communities in Europe, Chinese expats in Southeast Asia, Indians in Uganda and further back, French Protestants ("Hugenots"), have been persecuted and their wealth looted. The issue remains, however, whether such passports are very effective if they are only open to high net worth people. 

At a conference in January this year in Interlaken, Switzerland and attended by this news service, an English barrister, James Corbett, argued that if there is a need to enable wealthy people to flee persecution, asylum processes rather than golden visas make more sense. Corbett said such visas are more akin to luxury goods or a "fashion accessory". (See report on his comments and the rest of that conference here.