The EU Council has partially suspended the EU visa waiver agreement with Vanuatu. This means that all Vanuatu citizens with a passport issued after 25 May 2015 are no longer eligible for visa-free travel to Europe.
As a consequence, citizens of Vanuatu will not be eligible for ETIAS for Europe, the new visa waiver to be introduced in November 2023.
The European Union is concerned about security risks associated with Vanuatu’s investor citizenship (also known as golden passport) schemes.
The way Vanuatu citizens travel to Europe will change: Vanuatu passport holders will no longer be able to visit Schengen countries without a visa, even for short stays.
WHY VANUATU WAS REMOVED FROM THE EU VISA-EXEMPT LIST
In 2016, Vanuatu introduced 2 Citizenship by Investment programmes, the Vanuatu Development Support Programme (VDSP) and the Vanuatu Contribution Programme (VCP).
These ‘golden passport’ schemes allow foreign citizens to obtain Vanuatu citizenship in exchange for a minimum 130,000 USD investment. The Vanuatu passport, in turn, allows visa-free access to the EU.
The scheme first came under EU scrutiny in 2019 for not meeting obligatory due diligence controls to ensure that participants were not engaged in fraudulent or criminal activity.
As the authorities of Vanuatu failed to make the required changes to the citizenship investment schemes, the EU Commission proposed the suspension of visa-free entry.
The EU Commission announced its proposal to suspend the visa waiver agreement with Vanuatu in a press release on January 12, 2022.
The EU Council studied the proposal and made the final decision on suspending the visa waiver agreements with Vanuatu.
Vanuatu will be given 2 months notice from the date of publication of the resolution in the Official Journal.
EU SECURITY RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH VANUATU’S CITIZENSHIP PROGRAMME
The EU commission has specified the reasons why visa-free travel for Vanuatu citizens will be suspended.
- Vanuatu citizenship has been granted to individuals on the Interpol database
- Average processing times are too short to allow for sufficient screening
- Very low application rejection rates, only one rejection up to 2020
- Successful applications include those from countries that require a visa for Europe
These security failures mean that people who would normally need a visa for Europe could avoid Schengen visa processing by travelling with the Vanuatu passport. This posed a security risk for the EU.
In addition, the EU points out that visa-free access to Europe was being promoted as one of the benefits of Vanuatu citizenship, and was used to attract foreign investors to the golden passport scheme.
WHO DOES THE EU VISA WAIVER AGREEMENT SUSPENSION FOR VANUATU APPLY TO?
The suspension of visa-free travel from Vanuatu to the EU applies to ordinary passports issued from May 25, 2015. It is at this time that Vanuatu began issuing a large number of passports to foreign investors.
Anyone with a Vanuatu passport issued on or after this date will need to apply for a visa to visit EU member states.
HOW LONG WILL THE EU VISA WAIVER AGREEMENT WITH VANUATU BE SUSPENDED?
The suspension will remain in place until the security concerns are eliminated or reduced.
The EU will monitor the situation and, if the suspension is no longer necessary, it will be lifted. On the other hand, Vanuatu could be permanently moved to the list of visa-required countries for Europe if improvements are not made.
NEW VISA REQUIREMENTS TO TRAVEL TO EUROPE FROM VANUATU
Vanuatu passport holders will face new visa requirements for Europe under this suspension. The Vanuatu passport visa-free countries list will be reduced, as all 27 EU nations will be removed.
Travellers will need to get a visa to travel to Europe with a Vanuatu passport, even for short stays.
VANUATU PASSPORT WILL NOT BE ELIGIBLE FOR THE ETIAS VISA WAIVER
Citizens of Vanuatu were due to become eligible for ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System). The electronic visa waiver system will be introduced for visa-exempt travel to the Schengen Area in November 2023.
The ETIAS application will allow eligible passport holders to obtain travel authorisation for Europe online. Travellers will not have to visit an embassy or consulate to apply in person.
ETIAS will not be available to Vanuatu passport holders as the visa waiver agreement is being suspended. Instead, Vanuatu citizens will need to get a visa before visiting a country in the Schengen Area. This will apply to all lengths and purposes of stay.
To obtain a Schengen visa, citizens of Vanuatu will need to attend an appointment at the relevant embassy or consulate to present the application form and various supporting documents.
THE HISTORY OF EU-VANUATU RELATIONS
Since the Republic of Vanuatu was founded in 1980 and gained its independence from France and the United Kingdom, it has become a member of both the United Nations and the Commonwealth of Nations, largely composed of former territories of the UK.
A visa waiver agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Vanuatu was first signed in April 2015, permitting citizens of Vanuatu to travel to Schengen countries for short stays without the need to hold a valid visa.
However, in December 2017, Vanuatu appeared on an EU list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions which were suspected to be at risk of money laundering, financing terrorism, or promoting tax evasion.
While the list was not ultimately approved by the European Parliament, this was the first sign that Vanuatu was in danger of losing its EU visa waiver status.