EU Commission Proposes Permanent Suspension of Vanuatu’s Visa-Free Schengen

After temporarily suspending Vanuatu’s visa-free travel to the Schengen area in March 2022 and extending the suspension by another 18 months in February last year to allow the country time to “fix” its citizenship by investment programs, the European Commission this week proposed to make the suspension permanent.


In January 2022, the European Commission proposed a partial suspension of Vanuatu’s visa-free travel agreement with the EU, citing security “risks posed by Vanuatu’s investor citizenship schemes.” The decision followed Vanuatu’s announcement in the preceding month that it would open a third CBI program, the “Real Estate Option program,” which was set to have a single master agent.

In March 2022, the European Council adopted the Commission’s proposed partial suspension, affecting ni-Vanuatu citizens whose passports were issued after May 25th, 2015 (when the country’s large-scale CBI operations began in earnest). Later that month, Vanuatu established a National Task Force to “assess and mitigate” the EU’s concerns about ni-Vanuatu CBI, as well as to “engage in meaningful dialogue” with the EU.

In May 2022, the partial suspension took effect. The following week, representatives of Vanuatu met with the Commission, which made clear that Vanuatu would have until February 3rd, 2023 to reform its programs or see the visa-waiver suspension extended by another 18 months.

In June 2022Switzerland followed the European Council in partially suspending visa-free travel to ni-Vanuatu passport holders. By the end of the first half of 2022, figures from Vanuatu’s Department of Treasury and Finance showed that government revenue has been hard-hit by the suspension.

In November 2022, the European Council, after decrying “a lack of progress” in reforming the program, extended the visa-waiver suspension to cover all ni-Vanutu passport holders, even those whose citizenships were issued prior to 2015. The move was widely considered punitive, as it could not be justified on the basis of “security concerns” since CBI citizens were already covered by the suspension.

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In February 2023, The European Council agreed to give Vanuatu another 18 months to reform its program before implementing a full suspension of the country from the Schengen area’s visa-waiver agreement.

Calling for permanent withdrawal of visa-free Schengen travel

On Friday, the European Commission announced in a press release that it proposes to make the visa-waiver withdrawal permanent once the temporary suspension expires on August 3rd this year.

The Commission said its proposal was based on its “efforts to address irregular migration and security challenges linked to visa-free travel, in particular those deriving from investor schemes operated by visa-free countries.”

It said the proposal followed “extensive engagement with the authorities of Vanuatu since May 2022” and the security apprehensions it had raised with the Vanuatu government since then.

While it acknowledged that Vanuatu had “adopted a number of legislative changes to address the EU’s concerns,” the Commission said it did not consider these adequate to “mitigate the security risks of its investor citizenship schemes.”

While the Commission has made the proposal, it is up to the European Council and Parliament to decide whether to adopt it. Considering the support the Commission received from those two institutions when implementing the temporary suspension, the likelihood that it will now support the Commission’s proposal for a permanent ban is high.

In October last year, the Commission announced proposals that, if enacted, would allow it to add the operation of a citizenship-by-investment program as one of the valid grounds for suspending the visa-waver agreement between such countries and the Schengen area. In March this year, the ambassadors of the EU member states (the Committee of Permanent Representatives) agreed to include CBI program operations as an offense that can warrant visa suspensions.

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