Cyprus Mail
Legal View

The two roads to citizenship

By Dr Louisa Borg Haviaras

This article focuses on the difference between legally accessing citizenship and purchasing citizenship of the Union or residence rights based on an investment only. Legally accessing Union citizenship can be beneficial for both migrants and the EU as a whole.  However selling Union citizenship gives rise to concerns and risks associated with this practice such as the security gaps that result when one acquires citizenship without residing in a Member State, money laundering risks, corruption, tax evasion and circumvention of EU rules.

Furthermore, it puts to the test the governance as well as the transparency of such schemes and the knowledge of people handling such procedures. Finally it creates two classes of migrants: the elite or privileged ones versus the others who although they might have been legally and continuously residing in a Member State for 5 years or more (see Council Directive 2003/109/EC of 25 November 2003 concerning the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents OJ L 16, 23.1.2004) and are in a rightful position to acquire citizenship their applications may be rejected. It also impacts on the acquisition of citizenship.

The entry conditions for specific categories of third-country nationals are regulated by EU law. However, the granting of a residence permit to third-country investors is currently not regulated at EU level and in the absence of a uniform harmonised legal basis it remains governed by national law.

However, a residence permit accessed on the basis of an investor residence scheme set up in one Member State has also an impact on other Member States as among others it allows a third-country national to travel freely within the Schengen area for 90 days in any 180-day period. While third -country nationals are able to acquire the EU Long-Term Residence status, after five years of continuous and legal residence in an EU Member State during which they have put down roots in the Member State concerned, this is not the case with the residence requirement under the investor residence schemes. Cyprus is not an exception in introducing such schemes since other EU MSs such as Bulgaria, Ireland, Malta, and Spain have introduced similar programmes, offering fast-track access to residence status and even citizenship acquisition. One reason that led more and more Member States to adopt these schemes was the financial crisis starting in 2007.

The Commission discussed with the Cypriot authorities regarding the inclusion of an effective residence criterion in their investor citizenship scheme legislation. As a result, Cyprus changed its legislation in 2016 to require applicants under its investor citizenship scheme and their family members to hold residence permits. Despite continuous efforts to amend this scheme the longstanding weaknesses and abuses of the scheme led the government of Cyprus to abolish the citizenship by investment scheme effective from November 1, 2020. This not the only challenge facing Cyprus concerning those third country nationals who are not rich investors but have been legally and continuously residing in Cyprus for 5 years or more and yet very often are restricted from accessing Long Term Residence.

Two landmark cases reflect most of the above mentioned challenge that of Cresencia Cabotaje Motilla v. Republic of Cyprus through the Interior Minister and the Chief Immigration Officer, Supreme Court Case No. 673/2006, 21 January 2008 and that of Andriy Popovich v. the Republic of Cyprus, Case no. 1699/2011, 13 March 2013. Another example which has not reached the courts is that of Irene who after residing in Cyprus since 1949 was only granted Long Term Residence. Irene was born in India in 1944 after her parents fled Greece to escape the Nazis. Irene’s mother was a Greek national. Her father was born in Constantinople to a Greek mother and Maltese father and holder of a British passport.

The British Government transferred her family to Egypt, then to India and finally to Cyprus. Irene grew up in Cyprus, she went to school, she was employed, she paid her taxes, and she exercised her voting rights and got a pension when she reached retirement. All was well until her Cypriot identity card was no longer valid. When she went to renew it she was told that she was an alien and that she could not have a Cypriot identity because she was not Cypriot.

She had to apply for Long Term Residence, pay fees, and prove that she had been residing in Cyprus. This proves that not all cases are black or white. Each case is different and needs different and fair treatment. After residing in Cyprus for 70 years Irene deserves her Cypriot citizenship. It is high time Cyprus developed a comprehensive migration policy built on a positive approach of long-term legal immigration to the country with basic underlying principles created by the Long Term Residence Directive legal framework.

  • Dr Louisa Borg Haviaras is PhD Oxford Brookes University.

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