Since Brexit was announced in 2016, Malta has received total of 1,855 citizenship applications from British citizens, an increase of over 200% over three years, yet they face an uphill struggle as those going through the process have revealed.
Applications from British citizens increased as the date of Brexit drew closer. In 2016, there were 382, 619 in 2017, and 854 last year, according to Identity Malta.
Different from the controversial cash-for-passport scheme that sees the Maltese government sell citizenship for some €1.2 million, these applications are for citizenship by naturalisation.
Naturalisation can be granted on a number of grounds including familial ties such as having Maltese direct descendants, marrying a Maltese citizen and being married for five years, humanitarian reasons, or due to having lived here for a certain amount of time.
The last stipulates that a non-Maltese individual can apply for naturalisation based on the fact that they have resided in Malta for a period of five years and is of “good conduct”. After this time, the individual may apply for citizenship but approval is at the “discretion of the Minister”.
Cases of people being granted citizenship based on around five years of residence are few and far between. Several sources have noted that the (unofficial) policy of Identity Malta is that applications are largely not accepted unless the applicant has lived in Malta for 18 years.
While some information on naturalisation based on living in the country for a certain period of time is available on the integration.gov.mt site, the Identity Malta website makes no mention of it, although it does advertise the cash-for-passports scheme.
A British citizen who has purchased property and has been living in Malta for 12 years told The Shift News that he had approached a local law firm to assist him with his application, yet they advised that they would not take on any cases where the applicant had been in Malta for less than 18 years.This was confirmed by two law firms handling citizenship applications.
A number of other British citizens said the same – some have children born in Malta, while others set up businesses employing a number of Maltese citizens. All had either been refused, or had been told not to even bother applying until 18 years had passed, despite being eligible after five.
But the process is not much better for non-British citizens who apply on the basis of being married to a Maltese national for over five years. A Nepalese national said that when she applied last summer, she was told it would take over two years to process because of the need to carry out due diligence on her from her home country. Yet applicants for the cash-for-passport scheme have their applications processed within 12 months.
The increased number of applications from British citizens comes from the fact that once the UK leaves the EU, they will lose a number of rights linked to EU membership. These include the right to move and reside throughout the bloc, the right to vote and run for European Parliament elections.
Despite close ties between Malta and The UK and Joseph Muscat’s pledge to offer the 13,000 British citizens living in Malta a 10-year residence permit if they already have the right to reside, this does not change their rights in other Member States.
British citizens face an uphill struggle, while those who cough up €1.2 million find their citizenship fast-tracked, often without ever even residing in the country.
Cash-for-passport schemes such as those available in Malta, Cyprus and Bulgaria, were recently condemned by a European Commission report which stated that they were “useful tools for criminals, tax evaders and money launderers”. This came after the EU called for the “phasing out” of such schemes, due to similar concerns.
Bulgaria responded by stopping its scheme altogether, and Cyprus has just announced that it will significantly tighten the rules around granting citizenship including more stringent checks and tougher application criteria. In Malta, it is business as usual.