The Malta Independent 16 May 2022, Monday

Government amends Citizenship Act again, but residency still remains undefined

Malta Independent Sunday, 16 February 2014, 10:30 Last update: about 9 years ago

The government on Friday amended the Citizenship Act yet again so as to render it more palatable to the European Commission and the European Parliament in terms of effective residency, Brussels’ apparently last remaining bone of contention with the programme. But the lukewarm amendment still implicitly fails to stipulate a period of effective residency or any precise means of proving that residency.

As such, it remains unknown whether the European Commission will give its final stamp of approval to Malta’s so-called ‘cash for passports’ programme, even after this most recent amendment.

Last week, the European Commission had informed this newspaper that it was still analysing the text of the legal notice published on 4 February to determine whether it met Brussels’ expectations of a year’s ‘effective residency’ in Malta before citizenship applicants through the Individual Investor Programme are granted Maltese citizenship – a far cry from the government’s claim that the European Commission had given its blessing to the amendment that tweaked the scheme to provide for that effective residency.

But the legal notice published by the government on Friday varies little from that published on 4 February and it still stops short of stipulating a length of effective residency in Malta required; nor does it stipulate how that period of residency can be proved.

Friday’s amendment came in the form of a miniscule change to the application form for prospective new citizens, to the effect that they will need to prove residency. The addition to ‘Form N’ that needs to be filled out by applicants reads: “I undertake to provide proof of residence in Malta prior to being granted a certificate of naturalisation as a citizen of Malta in accordance with the Individual Investor Programme of the Republic of Malta Regulations 2014”.

This, however, varies very little from the change in the legal notice of 4 February, which had inserted the clause that an applicant “commits himself to provide proof of residence in Malta, and to provide proof of title to residential property in Malta in accordance with these regulations”.

With respect to the 4 February Legal Notice, which varies little in terms of residency from that published on Friday, this newspaper had reported last Sunday that while the government had presented the European Commission’s approval of the legal notice as a fait accompli, the Commission was actually still analysing the text to confirm that it ensures that its “effective residence” requirement is met.

Asked by this newspaper last week whether it was in agreement with the 4 February Legal Notice, a Commission spokesperson told this newspaper: “We are analysing the legal text which was published following the agreement reached between the Commission and the Maltese authorities to include an ‘effective residence’ requirement.”

That legal notice was the second, and Friday’s the third, to be published after the programme was initially approved by Parliament, along party lines, last November – only to be pilloried by the international press as the sale of EU passports by a cash-strapped country.

The first legal notice – published before Christmas and after discussions between the government and Opposition fell through – failed to allay concerns and Malta was singled out when the European Parliament approved a motion condemning the sale of citizenship.

This spurred the government to enter into discussions with the European Commission, which culminated in the two sides reaching an agreement on 29 January, through which the government committed itself to “the introduction of an effective residence status” – for 12 months – before granting citizenship.

But the government has been unusually evasive in describing what this “effective residence” actually means. When he announced the agreement, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat would not even commit himself to stating whether “a week’s holiday” was sufficient.

Both Dr Muscat and Parliamentary Secretary for Justice, Owen Bonnici have pointed out that 12 months’ residence neither meant spending 365 days in Malta, nor did it mean not having to set foot in the country at all, with the latter insisting that residency should not be assessed by counting the days spent in Malta.

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