Citizenship ought not to be hawked to the highest bidder

It does us no favours to suggest that money is enough

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The Independent Online

When the Maltese government announced its intention to offer citizenship – and thus entry into the EU – to the global super-rich for no greater commitment than a super-fee, the plan met with a storm of protest. Under the island’s Individual Investor Programme, unveiled late last year, an initial tranche of 1,800 people will be able to procure a passport for a mere €1.2m (£1m), with a discount for further family members. Cue much European teeth-sucking about citizenship for sale and the dangers of opening a door to the potentially disreputable.

But it turns out that Valletta is not the only government eyeing the money-making possibilities of high-end immigration. Britain already operates an investor-visa scheme under which foreign applicants can stump up either £1m, £5m or £10m, and cut the time before they can apply for citizenship accordingly. Today, Professor Sir David Metcalf, the chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee, will go one step further and suggest that a proportion of investor visas should be sold at auction.

In fairness, the proposal is not directly analogous to its Maltese counterpart; visa-holders must still live here for some time before they can apply for a passport, and they may then be turned down. And some of Professor Metcalf’s other ideas – for example, that money raised from investor visas might be channelled into public investments such as hospitals – deserve some consideration. But the notion that we might hawk UK citizenship to the highest bidder cannot be anything but unacceptable.

Not only are the practicalities far from appealing. After all, the scheme raises the same concerns about taking in the rich-but-rotten that the Maltese plan does. Still worse, however, is the message that such an initiative would send to the outside world. Throughout history, Britain’s status as one of the most open countries in the world has been a great strength. But welcoming visitors and conferring upon them family status is a wholly different matter; and it does us no favours to suggest that money is enough.

The Home Secretary is being urged to reject the auction proposal. We can only hope she wastes no time in doing so.