“More high net worth individuals are seriously weighing their options in resorting to global citizenship to ensure a better future for their families or to expand their business possibilities”, confirms Malta’s Junior Minister responsible for Citizenship, the Hon Julia Farrugia Portelli. This is visible on the beaming faces of adult and younger members of the family sitting around our festive boardroom table upon receiving Maltese citizenship, a regular but precious sight for me in the past 18 plus years of legal practice.
However, not all applicants share this good fortune. I occasionally meet frustrated investors and their lawyers who come to me for advice on receiving rejection letters from the Maltese citizenship agency.
A highly selective program
Malta’s Individual Investor Programme (MIIP) doesn’t admit all applicants, far from it. As a matter of fact, statistics show that one in every four applicants have been rejected over the programme’s four-year history. Malta’s Individual Investor Programme Agency (MIIPA) boasts a gold standard four-tier due diligence process that admits only the most eligible global citizens.
Jonathan Cardona, the CEO of MIIPA, recently upheld the importance of operating a strong due diligence process: “Our aim has always been to carefully select through the right checks and balances, and a rigorous due diligence process, the right global citizens that will see Malta as their natural home and the place they choose to shape the world of tomorrow”.
The Agency verifies all information provided by the client with various international databases, sources, and authorities to ensure all information is correct, most importantly in relation to criminal history and source of funds.
Common reasons for ineligibility
Fortunately, the reasons for a rejection of a Maltese citizenship application are logical and predictable:
The most obvious grounds for ineligibility of an applicant is where he has a criminal record or is or has been the subject of criminal proceedings.
Moreover, weight is also given to the reputational profile of the applicant’s family. Successful business families are often the target of bad press sponsored by competitors and as lawyers, it is our job to ensure these are assessed and, if relevant, disclosed and explained.
Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) are not automatically excluded from the MIIP. However, they will be subject to a rigorous due diligence to ensure due attention to their source of wealth, reputation and sensitivity to Malta’s international relations.
2. A Threat to National Security
Where the applicant is considered a potential national security threat to Malta or any other Member State within the EU.
3. Submission of False Information
4. Unclean Source of Wealth
Where there are strong indications that the source of funds and wealth of the applicant are not legitimate.
Although applicants are likely to be rejected if one of the above criteria is satisfied, whether an application is approved or not depends on the ability of the applicant’s lawyers to clarify where possible why the application should be approved. Simply listing the total net worth of the applicant is insufficient for the MIIP Agency, and it is the job of the applicant’s lawyers to explain how the income was generated and submit sufficient evidence which corroborates such declarations.
5. An Inauspicious Immigration History
Where the applicant was denied a visa to a country with which Malta has a visa-free travel arrangement and has not obtained a visa in that jurisdiction since.
While applicants who had a visa refusal may be rejected, the law gives discretion to Identity Malta to still consider the application for approval if the applicant’s agent demonstrates valid reasons to grant Maltese citizenship. This includes instances such as rejections based on insufficient travel insurance coverage or an incomplete application.
The 4 Steps to Successfully Applying
Key to avoiding rejection is a deep understanding of the grounds for ineligibility as well as of the rationale of the programme.
- Work with a reputable law firm so you feel safe disclosing confidential information in the context of lawyer-client privilege, including the uncomfortable skeletons in the closet. Minor indiscretions may have major implications on the outcome of an application if not identified, assessed and defended.
- Ask about the firm’s data security standards. Not all law firms have deployed bank-grade security standards to secure client data against data breaches.
- Open up. Give your lawyers the full picture. As an immigration lawyer, I prefer to be in control of the outcome of an application and I can’t control an application without all the relevant facts.
- Your lawyers should be able to study the facts presented, undertake their own enhanced due diligence research to ensure the completeness of that information, to discuss with you a strategy that
maximisesyour chances of success and, ultimately, to be honest enough to advise you when the chances of a positive outcome are slim.
In the Prime Minister of Malta’s own words, “Malta’s Individual Investor Programme is not for everyone…” Yet, the grounds for rejection are clear and fair. It only takes an experienced and honest assessment to find out if you’re eligible before investing in a full application.
Dr Jean-Philippe Chetcuti is the global managing partner of Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates, an international law firm specializing in international wealth structuring and global citizenship. Dr Chetcuti is an ex-chairman of the Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners and a member of the Investment Migration Council.