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Navigating Citizenship: Vanuatu’s Rapid Reforms and Global Trends

The European Union has been continuously cracking down on investment-based citizenship schemes across member states. Since October 2020, the European Parliament has voted to urge the European Commission to propose legislation banning such schemes worldwide. While the legislative process for this proposal may take several years and the voting on it even longer, the turbulence surrounding investment-based citizenship schemes has already commenced within the call for action.


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The European Union remains steadfast in its belief that investment-based citizenship schemes undermine the essence of national citizenship and should be phased out gradually. To make CBI-related countries aware that the situation is serious, the EU took the lead by revoking visa-free privileges for Vanuatu’s investment citizenship program, sending a strong message to other nations. The reason for targeting Vanuatu first is self-evident; Vanuatu’s historically low application barriers were bound to suffer the consequences amidst this upheaval.


In order to expedite the restoration of visa-free privileges, Vanuatu has embarked on its path of reform:

A.In January 14, 2022, Vanuatu enlisted the services of the British agency FACT UK as an independent third-party background investigation entity for its citizenship by investment program.

B.In June 2022, Vanuatu abolished the practice of allowing citizens to change their names as part of the citizenship process.

C.In October 2022, Vanuatu officially upgraded its passport to an electronic passport, enhancing its security features and compliance with international standards.


However, this is far from sufficient. The successive revocations of visa-free access by both the UK and Ireland have prompted the government of Vanuatu to engage in a more profound reconsideration of its citizenship by investment program. This is because the passports obtained through investment are indistinguishable from those held by local citizens, granting equal visa-free privileges. Consequently, the lenient nature of its citizenship by investment program significantly compromises the rights of local citizens. Next, Vanuatu will undoubtedly take further measures to rigorously scrutinize all citizenship applications, aiming to restore the original privileges of the Vanuatu citizenship by investment program.


Embracing the Mainstream: Prioritizing Stricter Background Checks

Among the six crucial regulations proposed during the Caribbean Roundtable Conference on February 25, 2023, measures such as rejecting applications from individuals refused by other Caribbean citizenship programs, introducing additional interview stages, and enhancing the rigor of background checks have all been implemented.


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As mentioned earlier, Vanuatu has received “attention” from the EU primarily due to its low application barriers. Since the establishment of the program in 2015, Vanuatu has boasted a success rate of nearly 100%, with no rejections recorded globally. In fact, individuals rejected by Caribbean programs have even found refuge in Vanuatu’s program.


Hence, the concerns raised by the EU are not unfounded. The temporary suspension of visa-free access for Vanuatu passport holders is aimed at safeguarding the security of EU member states. The policy of suspending visa-free access is set to expire on August 3rd of this year.


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Therefore, prior to August, Vanuatu is expected to implement the following measures to maximize the likelihood of visa-free access being restored on schedule:

1.Passport Collection Upon Arrival: In October 2022, Vanuatu upgraded to electronic passports, enabling the inclusion of applicants’ biometric information in the electronic chip to enhance the security of citizenship by investment program. Additionally, this upgrade is expected to facilitate future travelers holding Vanuatu passports to use self-service channels when traveling.

2.Introduction of New Background Check Agencies and Increased Documentation Requirement: From the first half of 2023, the Vanuatu government has expanded background checks beyond the existing Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to include the Immigration Service (VIS) and INTERPOL, forming a three-party background check system. Applicants will be required to provide additional documentation (including proof of source of funds, educational credentials, and proof of address, etc.) to assist the Vanuatu government in completing the background checks.


Therefore, at the current stage of the application process, there is still no requirement for physical presence, interviews, or language proficiency. Individuals rejected by visa applications from major countries or Caribbean programs are still eligible to apply for the Vanuatu citizenship by investment program. However, this option is only available for the remaining four months.

Following Closely Behind is the Rise in Investment Amounts


In March 2024, four out of five Caribbean citizenship by investment programs have signed agreements setting the minimum investment for citizenship at $200,000 USD. This implies that the minimum investment threshold for citizenship in the future will be set at $200,000 USD.


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Vanuatu’s CIIP school donation model, launched in July 2023, offers citizenship for families with a minimum investment of $100,000 USD. With only 100 slots available worldwide, 75 have already been filled. Once all slots are taken, applicants will only have the option to apply through the more expensive DSP citizenship model.


Stricter Background Checks and Extended Application Processing Times are Inevitable Trends

The primary reason why Vanuatu citizenship by investment program continues to attract numerous applicants is its rapid application process. With an average time of just 2 months from signing to passport issuance, Vanuatu offers a speed unmatched by other investment-based citizenship programs on the market. In Globevisa’s successful cases, there is a group of applicants who obtained their passports within just 20 days from signing. However, with the onset of policy changes, the possibility of achieving immigration dreams in 20 days will soon be a thing of the past.


With only 4 months left until August 2024, applicants who still wish to benefit from the lenient background check process, simple application procedures, and the possibility of citizenship within 20 days should act swiftly.





References:

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20201016IPR89564/member-states-must-stop-selling-eu-passports-immediately-meps-demand

https://dominicanewsonline.com/news/homepage/dominica-commits-to-six-new-cbi-principles/

https://www.dailypost.vu/news/eu-allows-18-months-extension/article_5f47279c-1eb4-5bc4-8551-4c0312d5829f.html

https://dominicanewsonline.com/news/governance/oecs-countries-with-cbi-programs-take-joint-actions-to-address-eu-concerns/

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