The European Commission (EC) has again warned Montenegro about the economic citizenship program, stating that the visa-free regime may be abolished because of it.
– If it is estimated that such programs represent an increased risk for the internal security and public policy of the member states, the visa-free regime may be suspended – it is stated in the fifth report on the monitoring of the visa-free regime of the EU with Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Serbia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, which was published on the EU website.
It recommends that Montenegro should urgently harmonize its visa policy with the European Union when it comes to third countries, especially those that represent irregular migration or security risks for the Union.
The EC stated in the report that Montenegro has not undertaken anything to harmonize the visa policy regarding the list of third countries that require a visa.
– On the contrary, in 2021 and at the beginning of 2022, Montenegro deviated from the recommended policy. Citizens of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cuba, Ecuador, Turkey, Qatar and Kosovo are still exempt from short-term visa requirements. For some nationalities, the exceptions are seasonal, while for others they are valid throughout the year – according to the report that the EC considered on Monday.
In the meantime, the European Commission corrected the report in the part where Montenegro and North Macedonia were asked to introduce visas for citizens of Kosovo, explaining that it was a mistake and that they have not changed their position on visa liberalization for Kosovo, and that they support the free movement of citizens as a priority.
It reminds that in March 2021, Montenegro extended the visa exemption for foreign citizens who have a valid residence permit in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
– Such an extension is not in accordance with the EU visa policy and was subject to abuse because some foreign nationals with a residence permit in the UAE did not return to the UAE and instead fled with the probable intention of entering the EU – it is stated.
It is recalled that on May 26, 2022, Montenegro adopted a decision on the temporary exemption from visas for citizens of Saudi Arabia from June 1 to September 30, 2022, which was aimed at mitigating the decline in the number of tourists coming from Russia and Ukraine .
They say that the harmonization of visa policy will be an important topic for the continuation of the dialogue between the EU and Montenegro and that, in the context of the visa suspension mechanism and in accordance with Article 8 of the Visa Regulation, the EC will continuously monitor and evaluate the actions of Montenegro in the direction of visa harmonization with the EU.
The EC again recommended to Montenegro to cancel the economic citizenship program without delay, stating that the previous recommendations regarding this scheme for granting Montenegrin passports were not followed.
– Montenegro has not yet canceled its citizenship program for investors despite the previously announced decision to cancel it in 2021. On the contrary, in December 2021, the Montenegrin Government decided to extend the program until the end of 2022 – the EC stated.
They remind that in 2021, Montenegro received 241 applications for 807 persons to acquire citizenship based on investment. On this basis, 264 Montenegrin passports were issued until December 2021.
– The Commission regrets the decision to extend the economic program and continues to appeal to Montenegro to cancel it as soon as possible. The decision to extend the program is of great concern for the EU in the context of its visa-free regime agreement with Montenegro – the report stated.
It adds that “this supervision is necessary because investor citizenship schemes can be used to bypass the procedures for obtaining visas for short-term stay in the EU and the in-depth assessment of individual migration and security risks that this procedure entails”.
The program, planned to last three years, was launched in 2019 by the previous Government of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS). It was intended to “sell” 2,000 passports in three years (from January 2019 to the end of 2021), so due to low interest, the Government of Zdravko Krivokapić planned to cancel it at the end of 2021. However, on December 30, 2021, it decided that the program extended until the end of 2022 with the explanation that investors did not have time to complete the projects due to the covid crisis.