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Bulgaria bans ‘golden passports’ in bid to win Schengen entry

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Bulgaria advanced a bill to ban so-called “golden passports,” which grant citizenship to people who invest in the European Union member state, according to Bloomberg. 

Following repeated criticism from the European Commission, which has kept the Balkan state out of the bloc’s passport-free Schengen travel zone, lawmakers voted Thursday to end the practice of granting citizenship to foreigners who make investments of as little as 1 million lev ($581,300).

“It’s about removing the opportunity for people who don’t have a persistent relationship with Bulgaria, people who don’t even reside permanently in the country, to quickly become Bulgarian citizens, and in that way, citizens of the European Union,” Justice Minister Nadezhda Yordanova told lawmakers.

More than 100 people, mostly from Russia, China and the Middle East, have received Bulgarian citizenship under the program since 2013, when the program was introduced. The bill still requires final approval in parliament.

The Commission has repeatedly warned that countries that grant golden passports expose the 27-member bloc to money-laundering and security risks and have cited Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta, as particularly problematic.

Cyprus has ceased issuing new golden passports but is still processing requests made before November 2020, while the U.K. – no longer a member of the EU – is planning to end a so-called “golden visa” regime that has come under criticism for allegedly serving as a route for illicit money to enter Britain.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who won elections last year vowing zero tolerance toward graft, said in an interview in January that he expects progress on Schengen membership within six months.

Of the more than 100 passports granted under Bulgaria’s golden passport program, seven have been revoked due to procedural violations, while authorities are investigating an organized crime group that allegedly took advantage of the practice.