Two US congressmen from opposing political parties have presented a bill that seeks to ban countries that sell citizenship by investment from the country’s Visa Waiver Program. 

Republican Burgess Owens and Democrat Steve Cohen have introduced the No Travel for Traffickers act, which seeks to ban passport holders from countries that sell so-called golden passports from participating in the US Visa Waiver Program. 

Malta is one of 40 countries that benefit from the program, which essentially allows people to travel to the US for 90 days or less without having to apply for a visa. 

In a joint statement, the congressmen said that golden passport schemes require little vetting and are frequently abused by criminals and corrupt oligarchs, pointing the finger at Russia as one of the “worst offenders” in making use of such programs as a back door to other countries. 

“Human trafficking kingpins and other international criminal enterprises rely heavily on their passport purchasing power to freely travel the world, establish a foothold in multiple countries, open bank accounts, and evade accountability,” said Rep. Owens. “The No Travel for Traffickers Act addresses the severe security risks of golden passports, signalling a critical step in our efforts to isolate bad actors around the globe.”

“Giving traffickers the ability to purchase passports or extending citizenship rights allows them to travel the world and escape accountability for their crimes,” said Rep. Cohen. “Many countries sell citizenship to traffickers through phoney ‘investments’ such as real estate, and this must be stopped. I am proud to join Congressman Owens in introducing the No Travel for Traffickers Act, which will help restrict this misuse of the legal process.”

Owens is a Republican who was first elected into the US Congress in 2021. Cohen was first elected in 2007. 

The two congressmen are also proposing that their government publicly list all countries with a citizenship by investment scheme, co-operate with the EU to encourage eliminating visa-free travel for Schengen members that sell passports and prohibit the use of US taxpayers funds to vet golden passport applicants.

Last week, junior minister Alex Muscat continued to defend Malta’s citizenship by investment scheme, insisting that they are not golden passports. 

However, the government bowed to international pressure on Wednesday and backtracked, saying it would suspend Russian and Belarusian applicants from the scheme. 

The scheme remains operational for applicants from other countries. 

On Monday, during a debate on the EU’s role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola also highlighted how stopping the sale of passports must be part of an action plan to divorce Europe from Russian influence. 

Malta and the EU Commission are currently locked in a legal battle over the scheme, which the EU wants banned. Speaking earlier this week, Muscat said that talks with Brussels were "healthy" and could lead to new, EU-wide regulations for such schemes. 

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