The government agency responsible for processing and granting of Maltese citizenship is struggling to cope as applications increased drastically over the last years, the Times of Malta is informed.

Following various complaints received by this newspaper from applicants complaining that their requests for citizenship have been “stuck for years” at Identity Malta, this newspaper was informed that the number of applications “through the normal channels” have more than doubled in the last five years.

While refusing to give information on how many applications were currently pending at Identity Malta, a spokeswoman for the agency said that last year “the number of applications for Maltese citizenship increased by 53 per cent when compared to 2011”.

Excluding applications related to the scheme selling Maltese passports – technically known as the Individual Investor Programme – Identity Malta said that in 2016 the agency received 1,233 applications for citizenship by registration and another 410 applications for citizenship by naturalisation.

At the same time, the agency said that during 2016, the agency processed a total of 1,641 applications out of which 333 were turned down.

Last week, the Times of Malta reported the story of a mother, originally from Russia, who obtained Maltese citizenship five years ago complaining that her children’s applications had been ‘stuck’ at Identity Malta for four years.

She complained that “the agency is a mess” and asked the responsible minister (Owen Bonnici) to intervene and get the agency’s act together.

It seems that if you don’t have €650,000 to buy a passport, the Maltese government treats you like a second class applicant

This newspaper was contacted by a number of people following Elena Spagnol’s story, recounting similar experiences.

“It seems that if you don’t have €650,000 to buy a passport, the Maltese government treats you like a second class applicant,” said a British passport holder, who qualifies for dual citizenship.

“The problem is that since I placed my application more than two and a half years ago, I have been completely left in the dark over its status,” he said.

An Italian citizen who said she qualified for a Maltese passport through marriage said she has been going through the process for three years.

“Every time I go to the office (in Valletta) to ask why it’s taking so long, the officers just tell me that they can’t cope and we have to wait.”

Sources at Identity Malta told the Times of Malta that the agency is understaffed.

“The agency’s officials have been asking for additional staff for the last two years. However, it seems that the government is only interested in giving a sterling service to these applying to buy citizenship while all the others have to wait,” the sources said.

The issue was also raised recently in Parliament with MPs from both sides of the House submitted parliamentary questions asking about the state of applications of various ‘future’ constituents.

In his answers, Minister Bonnici told MPs that the process was a very rigorous one which takes time.

Maltese citizenship can be acquired through two different processes – either by registration or by naturalisation.

However, following the introduction of a specific programme, the Maltese government is also offering citizenship at a price through the Individual Investor Programme.

Interested non-EU citizens will have to pay some €650,000 and buy or rent a residence in Malta in order to qualify.

For this category of citizenship the government is bound by a specific time by when an application is processed and a passport is issued.

ivan.camilleri@timesofmalta.com

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