War Could Restrict Access to Citizenship and Visas in Europe

15 de March, 2022

War Could Restrict Access to Citizenship and Visas in Europe

Reading: 5 min

The Russian invasion in Ukraine has had an impact on the issuing of citizenships and Gold Visas in Europe. The Citizenship and Residence by Investment programmes should have their granting rules revised in the near future. In Portugal, the attribution of nationality through links to the Sephardic Jewish community is also shaky, but still in operation.

Understand why you should hurry your application if you are interested in living and investing in Portugal, or just applying for Portuguese citizenship.

Golden Visas Could End

The subject occupied the pages of newspapers all over the world. The days of the Golden Visa programmes as we know them today are numbered. Members of the European Parliament approved, on 9 March, the end of the current “Golden Visa” regime in all European Union countries. In consequence, it is now up to the European Commission to adopt or reject the proposal.

This discussion was raised after the sanctions imposed by the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada against several Russian oligarchs with links to Vladimir Putin’s government, who obtained citizenship in European countries through these schemes.

Currently, three member states have Citizenship by Investment (CBI) policies: Bulgaria (which has already committed to closing its programme), Cyprus (currently only processing applications submitted before November 2020) and Malta.

The exchange of residence for investment (RBI), on the other hand, is accepted in 12 European Union (EU) countries. These are: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta, Estonia, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

The basic difference between the Citizenship by Investment Programme and the Residence by Investment Programme is that the former grants immediate citizenship to its applicant, while the latter grants residence, albeit without the obligation to become a resident, but with the possibility of obtaining citizenship after a certain period of time (as is the case of Portugal’s Golden Visa). Both are known as Golden Visa. Between 2011 and 2019, these schemes have benefited at least 130,000 people, attracting a total foreign investment of €21.8 billion to these countries, according to data provided by the European Parliament.

Find out what the Golden Visa is and how you can get it

What will change in the granting of Golden Visas?

It is difficult to say, with certainty, what the changes in the regime of the Golden Visas will be. The European Parliament intends to tighten the rules for granting citizenship and residence permits through investment in all countries. The aim is to prevent the regime being used for money laundering, corruption and tax evasion.

‘Citizenship by investment’ (CBI) programmes, through which third-country nationals can obtain automatic nationality rights in exchange for an investment, are to be abolished by 2025. Residence-by-investment programmes, on the other hand, may continue to exist, but with tighter rules.

In principle it is possible to point out some possible changes:

  • standardization of the rules for granting gold visas;
  • thorough background checks (family and sources of funds);
  • mandatory verification against the EU’s justice and home affairs systems;
  • verification procedures also in third countries;
  • mandatory reporting to member states;
  • minimum ‘on-site’ residence requirements for applicants;
  • setting up a “notification and consultation” scheme to allow other member states to object to the granting of a “golden visa;
  • six-monthly reporting by the applicants and on-site visits to the homes of the persons concerned;
  • division of each country’s profits (obtained through these investments) among the rest of the EU bloc.

Portugal has already suspended Golden Visas for Russian citizens

The Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) suspended the analysis of gold visa application processes for Russian citizens at the end of February. The measure was part of the set of sanctions against Russia adopted in the country.

In the last 10 years, Portugal has granted 431 gold visas to Russian citizens, which resulted in an investment in the country of 278 million euros. In 2021 alone there were 65 and investments of 34 million. None of these visas were granted to Russian citizens whose names appear on the European Union (EU) sanctioned list.

Currently, travel by Russian citizens within the Schengen zone is restricted to those considered essential (namely travel for professional, study, family reunion, health or humanitarian reasons). Nevertheless, the issuing of other visas (D2, D3 and D7) continues to be authorised so far, according to the Portuguese Embassy in Russia.

Concession of Portuguese citizenship may be impacted

The political instability scenario also had repercussions on the granting of Portuguese citizenship through the descent of Sephardic Jews. On March 13, the Jewish Community of Porto (CJP) informed that it had ended its activity of certifying descendants of Sephardic Jews for processes of obtaining Portuguese nationality. The decision came in the wake of the scandal involving the granting of Portuguese nationality to former Chelsea owner, Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.

The concession was made under circumstances that raised suspicions and led to the arrest last week of Rabbi Daniel Litvak, the person in charge of the Comunidade Israelita do Porto of issuing certificates for descendants of Sephardic Jews.

Some 57,000 descendants of Sephardic Jews have received citizenship since the law was implemented in 2015, according to official data. In 2020 alone a total of 20,892 descendants of Sephardim obtained Portuguese nationality through naturalisation (about 65% of applications granted since 2015).

Government will require effective link to Portugal to grant nationality to Sephardic Jews

As reported by the Público newspaper, the government approved in the council of ministers, on 9 March, the decree-law (DL) that reinforces the regulation of the Nationality Law for descendants of Sephardic Jews who wish to obtain Portuguese nationality. The document adds requirements for an objective connection to Portugal on the part of potential naturalisation candidates. It is not yet known when the new rules will come into force, but they will not have retroactive effect.

Could citizenship for descendants of Sephardic Jews end?

Probably not, however the process will become more difficult for claimants for the following reasons.

Firstly, because the legal alterations will now require that descendants of Sephardic Jews demonstrate an effective link with Portugal, as an additional condition for citizenship to be granted in this way. It should be remembered that until now such proof is not necessary and that future legal alterations will not have retroactive effects.

Additionally, in view of the most recent suspicions of illicit favouritism by the certifying Jewish Communities, this process will probably become more demanding. With the closure of the activities of the Jewish Community of Porto, in principle, it is also expected that the processes will take longer because they will be concentrated in the Jewish Community of Lisbon.

In 2013/2014, the Jewish authority in Portugal sent a proposal to the PSD/CDS government, suggesting the creation of an international commission for these certifications, something that has not yet been taken forward.

Descendants of Sephardic Jews: How to Obtain Portuguese Nationality



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