mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Selling Citizenship
Passports! Get Your Red Hot European Passports!

It will cost you, but for a little under $1.5 million in fees and investments, you can buy a passport from the tiny island of Malta. That might not sound like such a great deal unless they’re also throwing in a falcon, but since Malta is one of the 28 members of the EU, that passport gives you an automatic right to live and work in any member state. Given the number of people in countries like Russia and China who want a quick, no questions asked bolt-hole should the going at home get tough, the Maltese could be onto something big. The FT reports that the EU Parliament is up in arms about this and the Brussels bureaucracy is sputtering, calling on Malta to trash a policy that turns citizenship into a “tradeable commodity.” But for now at least, Malta is ignoring the EU leadership and this deal is the hottest ticket in town.

More seriously, this story underscores that the separation of citizenship from residency is growing throughout the world. There are countries in the Persian Gulf where a majority of the residents aren’t citizens and have second class status in many ways. It’s not hard to find young people in colleges today whose parents have lived and worked all over the world, who don’t have a clear sense of national identity with any country. Yet legally speaking your citizenship is one of the most important things in your life—people from A list countries like the US and the EU have an almost unrestricted right to jaunt around the world and can usually find ways to avoid the red tape around working or going to school somewhere other than in the land of your birth. For people and especially for young people from B, C, and D list countries, frontiers are huge obstacles, visas can be impossible to get, and the choice is often to go illegally or stay home.

Malta’s slightly creepy action exposes the hypocrisy and double standards of a Western world that claims to be devoted to principles of liberty and equality but has in fact helped create a world of profound inequality—not just economic, but social and political. That isn’t to say that the West should just open the borders and let everyone in. But it’s a reminder that the world we live in today isn’t the democratic and liberal utopia that we sometimes like to think it is —and it won’t be until it’s as easy for an 18 year old Turk to bum around the US for a summer as it is for US college kids to see Istanbul over the break.

This isn’t a West-bashing screed; often, the chief responsibility for desperate social conditions that drives mass emigration and makes open borders unrealistic lies with the kleptocrats and thugs who have misruled so many developing countries for so long. But Americans need to remember that just because the world system is working reasonably well for many of us doesn’t mean it is working well for everybody. Malta’s pricey passports illustrate the injustice that is built into the global status quo. It can’t, won’t and in all prudence shouldn’t be changed overnight, but one way to think about how to make the world a better place is to think about the changes over time that could make a Maltese passport worth less by making other passports worth more.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Kevin

    I thought quite a few countries have such policies. Often they give immigration rights in return for investments if a certain monetary amount or employing given number of people.

    • free_agent

      The US has such a system, although it’s a lot more complex and you only get a permanent resident visa (so you have to go through naturalization). And I’ve heard references to a similar Canadian program.

  • Fat_Man

    The US will give a green card to foreigners who invest in US businesses.

    I see no reason to worry about what the Euros do with type of program.

  • Jim__L

    Ever read Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age? I think that’s the one where he deals with the implications of franchisee-style citizenship.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service