Maltese Nationality Law & Integration. The Individual Investor Programme: An infringement on the European Convention on Human Rights?

Friederike Rühmann (UNU-Merit/ MGSoG) & Sebastian Gabryjonczyk (UNU-Merit/ MGSoG)

maltaAs of 2014 Malta ranks 33 out of 38 countries, testing for various integration criteria, received a total MIPEX Score of 40 out of 100, a mark deemed slightly unfavourable. Since 2007 Malta scores a meagre 34 out of 100 when it comes to nationality.MIPEX estimates Maltese Nationality law to be the most discretionary policy in Europe. Maltese Nationality Law is deemed archaic as it mainly focuses on emigration and has not adapted to reality: Malta has since the 1970’s been a country of immigration. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates a net inflow of 2.1 migrants per 1,000 individuals over the period 2010-15. The country has harsh eligibility requirements; conditions are similar to the average EU country, however highly discretionary in practice. They include language requirements and good character, but also references from “trustworthy” non-naturalised Maltese citizens including a judge, priest, doctor, lawyer, army officer, policeman or parliamentarian.The security of the status is frail as applicants can be rejected or lose the nationality on vague grounds without justification or right to appeal. Following the Maltese General Elections of 2013, a new Government was appointed putting a larger emphasis on social dialogue, civil liberties and equality relating to integration within the Ministry for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties.

Strengths & Weaknesses

CapturaOne of the strengths that can be highlighted is that Malta is attracting third country nationals who will entirely sustain themselves and contribute to the social fund, without burdening the welfare system. Money put into the social fund could be used for investments into the economic and social development of the country.

Captura 1A very obvious weakness of the integration policy program is that Malta has never taken humanitarian migrants. As a member of the EU they should also show responsibility for asylum seekers and not only attract rich third country nationals. As the graph shows Malta has not taken more than 2.800 Asylum Applications annually over the past 10 years.

The Individual Investor Programme (IIP) demands strong financial means of at least €1.15M with a Global Health Insurance covering at least 50.000 € per person over an indefinite period. Spouses, minors and other dependents are each charged 25.000 € extra, a policy that shows little respect for family reunification. This policy infringes on the European Convention on Human Rights Art. 8, which provides the right to “private and family life, home and [his] correspondence” as it puts a barrier to family life. Citizenship should not be treated as a tradable commodity and should not have a price tag attached to it. It should rather depend on people having ties to the country or to its citizens. Wealthy people have huge privileges over less-wealthy people which lead to issues of discrimination since it allows only the richest third country nationals to acquire EU citizenship without taking the general EU principles into consideration. Another major key criticism is that obtaining Maltese citizenship does not require residing on Malta for a certain period of time, investments would be simply be sufficient. Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner commented: “That is why member states should use their prerogatives to award citizenship in a spirit of sincere cooperation with the other Member States, as stipulated by the EU Treaties. In compliance with the criterion used under public international law, Member States should only award citizenship to persons where there is a “genuine link” or “genuine connection” to the country in question.”  Indeed the IIP ignores any type of genuine link. Whilst Maltese naturalisation imposes very restrictive genuine link requirements, the IIP requires no such proof.

The EU Commission succeeded to persuade Maltese authorities to add amendments to the IIP. It could persuade the Maltese Government to include residency requirements as one of the naturalisation criteria for the fast track citizenship acquisition. As a result of all the criticism the EU Parliament adopted a Resolution on ”EU Citizenship for Sale condemning member states” citizenship for sale programmes with concrete reference to the Maltese Individual Investor Program. Such programmes do not only impact Maltese investments, but also other EU countries after naturalisation. “Naturalisation for sale programmes” facilitates access to the EU labour market in all member states, thereby neglecting EU policy guidelines.

In conclusion, Malta has harsh eligibility requirements. Maltese Nationality law is on paper similar to the average EU country, but is highly discretionary. The criteria for “good character” are quite vague, the references of “good character” are highly exclusive as “trustworthy” non-naturalised Maltese citizens including the abovementioned professions could be difficult for migrants to access. The security of the status is frail as applicants can be rejected or lose the nationality on vague grounds without justification or right to appeal. The grounds for loss of nationality also impede on the naturalised citizens right to free speech and political liberty.


The authors’ recommendations on Maltese Nationality law are the following:

  • Malta should ease the naturalisation process for vulnerable individuals; OR
  • Remove the exorbitant barriers to naturalisation that Malta currently applies;
  • Maltese citizenship must become a more secure status and no longer bring harm to naturalised citizens;
  • Naturalised citizens should have the same rights as natives;

The authors further recommend the Maltese government to:

  • Increase political will and public support for integration;
  • Produce annual assessments of integration and systematically evaluate all integration initiatives;
  • Clearly define the countries integration goals and commit to them;
  • Address specific needs of vulnerable groups to access and complete integration and residence policies;
  • Increase immigrants’ and mainstream service providers’ awareness of immigrants’ rights to access services.