North America

70% of US Visa Waiver Countries Have Investment Migration Programs, Library of Congress Report Finds

In the wake of the introduction of the bipartisan No Travel for Traffickers Act in the US House of Representatives, the Library of Congress has published a report titled Investment Migration Programs of Visa Waiver Program Countries, which provides an overview of which of the 40 countries whose citizens enjoy visa-free travel to the United States operate either investment-based residency and/or citizenship programs.

The report concludes that 28 out of the 40 countries (70%) that are part of the Visa Waiver Program have residence by investment programs, two of which (Malta and Austria) also have citizenship by investment programs, according to the report.

The report incorrectly finds that Malta offers only a five-year path to citizenship (it is available in fewer than two years for investors), a conspicuous error considering the extensive coverage of the EU-Malta dispute over the MEIN policy in recent months.

It is also erroneous in its conclusion that Austria has a citizenship by investment program. Austrian law and regulations contain no standardized requirements or investment amounts needed to obtain instant citizenship in that country. While Austria does offer citizenship by decree/exception/merit to significant investors (a minimum of US$3 million in investments, and typically more, applies), a legal provision it often exercises, that is also the case in dozens of European countries, none of which are considered to operate CIPs.

The No Travel for Traffickers Act, introduced in the House in March, aimed to:

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  • Ban participation of countries that sell passports from participation in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.
  • Mandate that the Executive Branch list publicly all countries with citizenship-by-investment or “Golden Passport” programs.
  • Direct the Executive Branch to cooperate with the United Kingdom and the European Union to eliminate Schengen area visa-free travel for countries that sell passports.
  • Prohibit the use of U.S. taxpayer funds to vet “golden passport” applicants so taxpayer dollars cannot be used to enable these corrupt programs. 

Going by the report’s findings, the first aim of the No Travel for Traffickers Act would represent a challenge only to Malta and, possibly, Austria, although the latter would be able to argue convincingly that it does not operate a citizenship by investment program. None of the 12 direct citizenship programs are part of the US Visa Waiver program in any case.

The third point, however, has been a cause for concern and consternation among Caribbean CBI jurisdictions, as it directly targets them for revocation of their visa-free access to the Schengen area. The introduction of the bill prompted Antiguan prime minister Gaston Browne to write to EU and US lawmakers to “let them know about the impact they are about to inflict on our CBI programs and the impact on our economies,” and to reassure them of the quality of due diligence conducted.

So far, the bill in question has made no congressional progress since its initial introduction to the House. On the day of its introduction, it was referred – “for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker” – to the Committee of the Judiciary and the Committee of Foreign Affairs, with which the proposal remains.

Christian Henrik Nesheim AdministratorKeymaster

Christian Henrik Nesheim is the founder and editor of Investment Migration Insider, the #1 magazine – online or offline – for residency and citizenship by investment. He is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, documentary producer, and writer on the subject of investment migration, whose work is cited in the Economist, Bloomberg, Fortune, Forbes, Newsweek, and Business Insider. Norwegian by birth, Christian has spent the last 16 years in the United States, China, Spain, and Portugal.

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