Speaking to IMI in connection with last week’s news about plans for a US$150,000 Armenian citizenship by investment program, Yerevan-based immigration attorney Nerses Isajanyan of Vardanyan and Partners explains that the speed with which amendments to Armenia’s citizenship law (see article 13) were adopted in July indicate that the government is serious about its CBI plans.
“The Citizenship Law was amended in July to define two categories of applicants,” says Isajanyan, whose firm has assisted several applicants with citizenship by exception in Armenia. “Those who have provided ‘exceptional services’ to Armenia and those who have made a ‘significant contribution’ to the Armenian economy, culture, sports, healthcare, etc. The draft decision published on October 12th details the criteria for this second category of applicants, while the term ‘exceptional services’ remains undefined as it was before.”
CBI applications to be processed by Prime Minister’s Office, vetted by National Security Service, and approved by President
The reason the draft decision is listed as having been developed by the Armenian Police, Isajanyan clarifies, is that the country’s immigration office (the Passport and Visa Department) is an administrative division of the Police. Starting next year, however, a Migration Services department under the new Ministry of Internal Affairs will be responsible for immigration. According to the amended Citizenship Law, however, citizenship-by-exception cases will be the remit of the Prime Minister’s Office, which will consider such cases and forward them to the President for approval once they have been cleared by the National Security Service.
Questioned as to whether he is aware of plans to form a dedicated bureau within the government, such as the Citizenship by Investment Units (CIUs) that are customary in the Caribbean, Isajanyan indicates he believes no such plans exist for the moment.
“The Citizenship Law makes it clear that cases will be initiated by the Prime Minister’s Office itself, bypassing the agencies involved in normal naturalization proceedings, such as Police, Foreign Ministry, Inter-Agency Committee on Citizenship Matters, and so on” says Isajanyan.
Applicants, he points out, will file their petitions with the Prime Minister’s Office, which, in turn, obtains clearance from National Security before sending it to the President for a final sign-off. While he says he can’t rule out the creation of a special unit sorting under the Prime Minister’s Office, Isajanyan points out that this office already has a “Division of Pardons, Citizenship, Awards, and Titles”.
Citizenship law amendments were fast-tracked, decision must be enacted by Jan 29th
Asked to comment on the likelihood that the government will actually launch a CIP, Isajanyan says he thinks the chances are very good.
“I think the likelihood is high,” he remarks. “The Government announced its plans to amend the Citizenship Law in May, and the Parliament enacted the amendment on July 7th. By Armenian standards, this amendment was passed very quickly, and I think it means it was strongly supported by the Prime Minister. The amendment came into effect on July 29th, and it states that the Government shall set forth the criteria for granting citizenship by exception within six months, i.e. by January 29th, 2023. Another decision of the Prime Minister requests the relevant agencies (Police, Revenue Committee, Ministries of Economy, Healthcare, and Sports/Culture/Science/Education) to submit the draft to the Prime Minister’s Office by the 20th of November.”
In our initial report on the story, IMI had indicated the government would make a final decision on the matter by October 27th. That date, however, Isajanyan explains, is merely the deadline for the public discussion period.
“It is expected that the Police will submit the final version of the decision to the Prime Minister’s Office by mid-November,” he clarifies. “If this happens, the decision is likely to be enacted by the Cabinet of Ministers in December. In any case, the decision – in one form or another – will have to be enacted by January 29th, 2023, the 6-month deadline provided by the Citizenship Law amendment that came into effect on July 29th.”
As to whether we might expect changes to the draft decision before it is adopted, Isajanyan points out that this is certainly possible, given the heated debate that has ensued since the draft was published.
“The opposition alleges that Prime Minister Pashinyan wants to undermine national security by ‘selling passports’ to nationals of Azerbaijan and Turkey,” he says, and points out that the government might be pressured to make changes “if this wave of criticism continues.” He notes, that “the critics do not question the reasonableness of the suggested investment amounts but the idea of citizenship-by-investment in principle due to national security considerations.”
Renewed CBI plans likely motivated by demand from Russians
Isajanyan also doesn’t rule out the possibility of the EU or even Russia voicing their misgivings about an Armenian CIP, the kind of pressure he believes to have driven the previous government to drop similar plans in 2017/18. Back then, an Arton Capital report had proposed that Armenia structure a CIP with investment and donation amounts of US$100,000 and US$50,000, respectively.
“I believe it was canceled because of the opposition of the Foreign Ministry and the National Security Service,” he says. “Back then, Armenia was negotiating visa-free travel with the EU, and I have heard rumors that the program was canceled because it would make the negotiations harder.”
This time around, however, support for the plans within the government appears to be broad, motivated by a recently opened window of opportunity:
“I am almost certain that the subject became relevant after the war in Ukraine started and there was a massive influx of Russian nationals to Armenia. Many of them are interested in becoming residents or citizens of Armenia. I believe the Ministry of Economy realized the potential of a CIP and probably convinced the Prime Minister to take a favorable position on the matter.”
Isajanyan also underscores that he is practically certain the government is developing the program on its own, without the involvement of any private-sector third parties. To the best of IMI’s knowledge, that is the case.