More Russian nationals were granted Maltese citizenship in 2020 than the following two countries combined, new EU figures confirm.
Data published by Eurostat, the EU's statistics office, shows that 175 Russians received Maltese citizenship in 2020, the highest figure for any nationality.
A further 54 Libyans were also granted citizenship, as were 52 citizens from the Philippines.
Overall, 1,181 applicants were granted Maltese citizenship that year, meaning close to 15 per cent of all recipients were Russian nationals.
Citizenship can be obtained through several methods ranging from marriage to descent, naturalisation or, in some cases such as Malta, investment. The Eurostat figures do not provide context about the reasons for which citizenship was granted.
Across the EU, Moroccan, Syrian and Albanian applicants were the most common new citizens in 2020. Over 68,000 Moroccans now call themselves European, as do some 50,000 Syrians and 40,000 Albanians.
Cyprus and Finland were the only two other EU member states where Russian nationals topped their respective citizenship lists in 2020.
Cyprus, like Malta, operated a citizenship-by-investment scheme in 2020. That scheme was suspended in November of that year following a corruption scandal. Finland shares a land border with Russia and the two countries have several historic ties.
The granting of Maltese citizenship has made both local and international headlines since 2013, when the Labour government introduced the citizenship-by-investment programme soon after it rose to power.
Malta's Individual Investor Programme, as it was known, allowed non-EU nationals to effectively purchase Maltese citizenship, obtaining freedom of movement and access to EU financial systems.
Russians are currently banned from applying for Maltese citizenship following the invasion of Ukraine, with pending applications currently frozen. Malta has also revoked the citizenship of a Russian national named on a US sanctions list.
The government had initially resisted pressure to stop selling passports to Russian applications, arguing due diligence processes were thorough and prevented abuse.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had urged Malta to “stop the privileges of Russian people, including golden passports and dual citizenship" when he addressed Malta's parliament earlier in May.
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