Anyone interested in getting a Maltese passport will soon have to live in Malta for a year before being allowed to apply for citizenship, the government announced on Friday.

In a media briefing, Citizenship Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat said new regulations, which come into force in September, would remove the possibility for individuals to apply for Maltese citizenship without first becoming residents.

Under the new scheme, applicants who invest €750,000, up from €650,000 under the existing rules, will be able to apply for citizenship after living in Malta for one year.

Applicants who invest €600,000 will have to spend three years in Malta before applying for a passport. 

The minimum value of the property purchased will double to €700,000 from €350,000. A €10,000 philanthropic donation will be mandatory. 

Up to 400 citizenship applications will be approved per year and the new scheme will be capped at a maximum of 1,500 successful applicants. 

The changes will form part of a revamped citizenship programme which will come into force once the current Individual Investor Programme ends on September 30. 

'Scrapped IIP'

Muscat talked up the changes and said the government had "scrapped" the Individual Investor Programme. 

“The easy way out was to go from IIP 1 to IIP 2 but we wanted to have more people onboard, including the Opposition," Muscat said.

“We know that we cannot get it wrong. We cannot afford to have one rotten apple,” Muscat said when asked what prompted the changes. Malta, he said, needed to protect its reputation.

The IIP scheme has attracted plenty of negative press and criticism from the European Commission, which wants such citizenship schemes removed. 

The current scheme's residency requirements have been described as overly permissive, allowing wealthy applicants the opportunity to buy EU citizenship while having next to no real tie to the country granting them a passport. 

While the current IIP scheme requires applicants to have lived in Malta for 12 months prior to receiving their Maltese passport, this one-year period can begin on the day applicants submit their citizenship application. 

The revised rules will preclude applicants from filing an application until the one-year residency period is completed. 

Prime Minister Robert Abela had said in January that he was keen to retain the scheme and has subsequently argued that revenue from it is key to countries following the coronavirus-caused economic slowdown. 

The changes announced on Friday have been approved by cabinet. 

Talks with Henley and Partners 

Asked on Friday whether Henley and Partners will continue to be the programme's concessionaire, Muscat said their contract with the government runs until 2023.

He would not say whether Henley and Partners were looking at ways to terminate their contract. 

“Talks are still ongoing and I don’t want to comment further to not jeopardize the process,” he said.

Asked what prompted the changes and whether the upcoming review by Council of Europe monitoring body Moneyval had anything to do with the changes, Muscat said the aim was to attract the best people. 

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