The House on Thursday passed an amendment to the Civil Registry Law, relaxing the rules for granting Cypriot citizenship to foreign nationals, in a stated bid to draw tech talent to the island or encourage such workers to stay here.

Under the amended law, foreign nationals working in the ‘research and innovation’ sector can apply for fast-track citizenship, granted at the discretion of the interior minister.

The bill was introduced by Diko MP Nicolas Papadopoulos, who insisted this was not another citizenship-by-investment scheme that would go awry like the last one.

“It has nothing to do with investing [in Cyprus] but rather with knowledge,” Papadopoulos said in remarks before the vote.

“The aim is to attract qualified specialists in specific fields. Investing in research and innovation means investing in our country’s future, and this will have an immense economic benefit.”

He added: “This is not a golden passports programme, but a golden knowledge programme,” he asserted.

The relaxations relate to the amount of time a foreign national would have resided in Cyprus prior to applying for naturalisation, as well as knowledge of the Greek language.

Applicants would still need a working knowledge of the Greek language, be financially self-sufficient, have no criminal record and be “of good character.”

Family members of such applicants would also qualify for citizenship provided that, among other things, they legally and continuously resided in Cyprus during the 12 months immediately preceding the filing of the application.

Processing of such citizenship applications would take no longer than eight months.

Aristos Damianou of Akel likewise welcomed the arrangement, saying it contained safeguards in that applicants must be physically present in Cyprus and thus have real ties to the island.

The MP said many tech experts are already resident on the island and their children have an excellent knowledge of Greek.

“We’re not talking about the Jho Low phenomenon,” he said, alluding to the Malaysian businessman who became the poster child for what was wrong with the ‘golden passports’ programme.

Damianou also cited data according to which research and innovation companies contribute €3.2 billion to the economy. Around 70 per cent of their employees are Cypriots.

On the House floor, Greens MP Charalambos Theopemptou and independent MP Alexandra Attalidou introduced an amendment of their own, that would see the number of such naturalisations capped at 4,000.

Their amendment was defeated.