Which Countries Let You Buy Citizenship?

How It Works
Nov. 13 2013 3:14 PM

You Can Now Be Maltese for $865,000

78341838
Malta immigration officers check passports of passengers at Malta International Airport on Dec. 4, 2007.

Photo by Ben Borg Cardona/AFP/Getty Images

Under a new law, the cash-strapped government of Malta will allow foreigners to buy citizenship for €650,000 ($865,000). Anyone over the age of 18 who can pass a criminal background check is eligible and you don’t need to live on the island or invest there. The EU member state with a population of about 418,000 expects about 200–300 buyers per year. These new citizens will presumably enjoy free travel rights throughout the EU and visa-free travel to the United States.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Malta won’t be the only country with a program like this. The cheapest deals are in the Caribbean. You can become a citizen of St. Kitts and Nevis in return for $250,000 donation to a fund for retired sugar workers or a $400,000 real estate donation. Antigua and Barbuda instituted a program with the same price just last month.  In Dominica, it costs about $100,000. These passports are particularly popular in the Middle East, though St. Kitts closed its program off to Iranians in 2011.

Advertisement

Besides Malta, two other countries in the EU will reportedly offer citizenship for the right price. Cyprus recently cut the price of its “citizenship by investment” program from €10 million ($13.5 million) to €3 million ($4.4 million) to placate foreign, mostly Russian, investors who lost out under the terms of the country’s recent EU bailout.

If you’re a bit more of a high-roller, Austria’s laws allow citizenship to be granted to those who have performed "extraordinary services" for the country and  one firm specializing in repatriation claims to have secured passports for clients willing to make an investment there of at least $10 million. (The Austrian government denies that it works this way.) Other countries including Portugal and Ireland have programs to grant residency permits—including travel rights within the EU—to investors, with passports often following a few years later.

These programs are understandably controversial. One opposition lawmaker called Malta’s new law a "black day for democracy." Macedonia canceled its citizenship for investment program after the controversy that followed its granting a passport to Thailand’s ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.  

What about the United States? Under one program, foreigners can get investor visas for a “$1 million investment in a U.S. business employing at least 10 people or $500,000 in designated economically depressed areas,” but it takes at least two years to get permanent residence and at least five to get citizenship.

The economist Gary Becker has suggested that more countries should sell immigrant visas. The Economist explains:

 Adjusting the price from year to year would allow governments to retain control over how many immigrants came while responding to changing labour-market conditions. And the revenue raised might go some way to assuaging the concerns of those who oppose immigration, especially now when clever thinking is needed about ways to improve public finances. Charging $50,000 for the right to immigrate would net America $50 billion if it let in 1m immigrants, roughly as many as it currently admits legally.
More importantly, the immigrants most tempted by such a fee-based system would be those who would garner the biggest economic benefit from migrating, such as those whose wages would increase by the largest amount. They would be the kind of innovative, hard-working go-getters countries want to attract…

Becker suggests that qualified immigrants who can’t afford the fee could borrow the money from their government or employer. Critics charge that this would essentially be a form of indentured servitude, something that’s hardly unheard of in the history of American immigration.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Even if You Don’t Like Batman, You Might Like Gotham

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

John Oliver Debunks the Miss America Pageant’s Claim That It Gives Out $45 Million in Scholarships

  News & Politics
Over There
Sept. 22 2014 1:29 PM “That’s Called Jim Crow” Philip Gourevitch on America’s hypocritical interventions in Africa.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 1:37 PM Subprime Loans Are Back! And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 22 2014 3:33 PM Killing With Kindness My in-laws want to throw me a get-well-from-cancer bash. There’s no way I can go.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM Escaping the Extreme Christian Fundamentalism of "Quiverfull"
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 3:16 PM Watch the Best Part of Beyoncé and Jay Z’s On the Run Tour
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.