No plans to grant citizenship, says minister

Economic Minister Fayyaz Ismail has stated that the government has no plans of awarding citizenship to any foreigners. The minister’s comments come amid heated debates within the community regarding granting residency visas to foreigners.

The parliament committee on national security and foreign relations recently approved amendments proposed to the Immigration Act. However, the bill was sent back to the committee by Speaker Mohamed Nasheed for further amendment. The bill proposed to grant residency visas to forigners married to Maldivian nationals, and any foreigner who has invested MVR 100,000 on a business with the approval of the relevent authorities. Any foreigner who has rented a property in the Maldives for over ten years will also be eligible to apply for residency visa, the bill said.

Speaking at the parliament committee on national security and foreign relations, Economic Minister Fayyaz Ismail said the government has not considered granting citizenship to any foreigners, and that there are existing laws on granting citizenship. The amendments proposed to the immigration act by the state is not linked to citizenship, said the minister, noting that a residency visa is similar to tourist visas, but allows a person to stay in the Maldives for longer periods.

“A [citizenship] law is already in place. If necessary, it can be modernised. But the government does not have any specific intention of granting citizenship [to any foreigners,” said the minister.

Fayyaz further noted that the law enables a corporate residence visa to be issued since 2015, and that the visa is only granted to parties approved by the Economic Ministry and the Tourism Ministry. The criteria to be eligible for the visa includes having made an investment of atleast US$ 50 million in the Maldives, and also dictates that the applicant must have invested in a project worth US$ 1 million. Only those who meet the criteria will be granted corporate residence visa, said the minister. In this regard, 27 individuals who meet the criteria have been issued a corporate residence visa by the Economic Ministry.

The minister further pointed out that the law already provides opportunity for foreigners married to Maldivian nationals to apply for residency visa. However, the current process is very complex and difficult, said Fayyaz. This includes renewing visas once a year, and having to leave the country within one week if the couple gets divorced.

Minister Fayyaz said there is no point in issuing a residency visa to those who rent properties in the Maldives, and that the government would prefer to introduce a ‘second home’ program and issuing residency visas under said program. The current laws also enables such a process, however, changes need to be brought to the required investment amount to qualify for residency, said the minister.