Contributed by: Jean Philippe Chetcuti (Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates)
June 2019 to May 2021
1. Country Overview
Malta, the smallest EU Member state, has undergone a number of political and legal developments in the previous year. A new Prime Minister took office in 2020 and set up a new cabinet of Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries who embarked on a number of reforms in the Maltese legal system. The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission has welcomed the efforts of the Maltese authorities to implement some of its recommendations on Constitutional arrangements and separation of powers, on the independence of the judiciary and law enforcement. Malta has also improved measures and introduced new legislation in compliance with the Financial Action Task Force of the Council of Europe. The positive steps by the authorities have prompted MONEYVAL to assign Malta higher international compliance ratings.
A dedicated Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship and Communities is now responsible for the Public Registry, the Central Visa Unit and all immigration programmes in Malta.
2. Legislative Changes
The Government of Malta has introduced a number of laws aimed at revamping Malta’s permanent residence and citizenship by investment routes. Malta has also adopted the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement through Legal Notice 18 of 2020.
The following legislation was introduced:
Legal Notice 18 of 2020: Residence Status of United Kingdom Nationals and their Family Members in Malta in accordance with the Agreement on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community Regulations, 2020 (right of British nationals already in Malta to register themselves as residents of Malta.) UK nationals who settled in Malta before 1 January 2021 were given the right to apply for their new residence status after three (3) months of their arrival in Malta and before 30 June 2021.
Legal Notice 194 of 2020: International Protection Agency (Establishment) Order, 2020
Legal Notice 436 of 2020: Community Malta Agency (Establishment) Order, 2020
Legal Notice 437 of 2020: Granting of Citizenship for Exceptional Services Regulations, 2020
Legal Notice 121 of 2021: Malta Permanent Residence Programme Regulations, 2021
Legal Notice 124 of 2021: Residency Malta Agency (Establishment) Order, 2021
3. Business Immigration
• Employment-based immigration (work and residence permits)
A new format for Maltese residence cards has been implemented. Residence cards being issued to both EU and non-EU nationals are now more secure and difficult to forge. The holder’s personal data is laser engraved on a polycarbonate substrate card. All EU member states are to comply with the new card format by July 2020.
Malta has also decided that residence permits for non-EU nationals working in the health sector only will be valid for three years as opposed to just one year (as is the case for normal work permits).
• Investment-based immigration (Investors/Entrepreneurs)
A new residence programme (Malta Permanent Residence Programme) for investors was launched in Malta by means of Legal Notice 121 of 2021. Residence cards are issued for 5 years and are renewable indefinitely, provided the investor maintains a Maltese address and all other programme requirements and eligibility. The MPRP is based on a property investment (rental or purchase), together with the payment of a contribution to the government and a donation of €2,000 to charity.
In order to be eligible for the programme, the applicant must show that they are in possession of €500,000 in capital, of which €150,000 must take the form of financial assets, such as bank deposits or stocks.
4. Family based immigration
Family reunification processes are implemented by means of the provisions of the Family Reunification Regulations Subsidiary Legislation 217.06 (transposing EU Directive 2003/86). This subjects TNCs in Malta to a minimum salary requirement (the average wage published by the Malta NSO with an additional 20% income or resources for each additional member of the family). A new policy published on 1 May 2021 allows the Government to providing an avenue on an ex-gratia basis for those family members who do not satisfy the minimum salary requirement to join their sponsor in Malta. A sponsor may only submit an application in this regard for their family members after 12 calendar months from the date of issue of his/her first residence permit. The sponsor, who is already legally staying in Malta, must submit a request to Identity Malta in order to determine eligibility of applying for such a residence permit. Following such eligibility request, the Agency will confirm prospects of eligibility or otherwise and issue confirmation in writing.
In 2020, the asylum procedure in Malta was reformed in law and also in policy. The new International Protection Act established an International Protection Agency (IPA) and an International Protection Appeals Tribunal, in replacement of the Office of the Refugee Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Board. This was done by virtue of Legal Notice 194 of 2020. The IPA in 2020 has improved the decision-making processes and the overall quality of the national asylum procedure, and together with EASO started working on a country-of- origin information helpdesk.
No significant amendments were made in this area; however, a Specialised Returns Unit within the Malta Police Force was set up to improve the police force immigration section.
By virtue of Legal Notice 436 of 2020 (Community Malta Agency Establishment Order), a new agency was set up to administer and process citizenship related matters. This includes accepting and processing applications for the acquisition of Maltese citizenship by birth, by registration, by naturalisation through long term residence, for exceptional services by merit, and for exceptional services by direct investment in Malta.
Malta also launched Legal Notice 437 of 2020, which prescribes the requirements for the acquisition of Maltese citizenship by naturalisation for exceptional services to Malta on the basis of exceptional interest. This development in the legislation came after the Individual Investor Programme (IIP) reached its cap of 1,800 applicants.
The number of certificates by Maltese Citizenship by Naturalisation for Exceptional Services by Direct Investment granted (excluding dependents) shall not exceed four hundred (400) per annum, and a total of 1,500 for the duration of the regulations.
Under these regulations, the applicant is required to:
Submit proof of residence in Malta for at least thirty-six (36) months or by exception of (12) months against a higher investment, preceding the date of application.
Purchase a residential property worth at least €700,000 or rent a property for a minimum annual rent of €16,000, which shall be kept for a minimum of five (5) years from the oath of allegiance .
Donate a minimum of €10,000 to a registered and compliant philanthropic, cultural, sport, scientific, animal welfare or artistic NGO or society.
Undertake to make a non-refundable investment of €600,000 when the application is submitted after 36 months of residence or €750,000 when the application is submitted after 12 months of residence.
Undertake to make a non-refundable investment of €50,000 for each dependent.