Cyprus is ending a years-long program that offered citizenship to wealthy foreign nationals and recently reopened its Ionian Sea island of Larnaca to foreign migrants as it faces allegations of corruption.
The European Development Fund, which pays for these programs, said on Wednesday that it would end its programme of granting citizenship to applicants who have invested more than 250,000 euros ($322,000) in order to start an enterprise in the country in September. Instead, the fund will look to attract talent for social projects with money raised from local investors.
The new program, which will be formally announced at a conference on Thursday, will focus on developing agriculture and industrial sectors, according to the fund. The government of Cyprus has said it plans to invest in the EU-funded Ionian Sea island in order to attract migrants.
The first scheme, which began in 2015, opened in Larnaca on Monday and targeted candidates from the oil-rich Gulf state of Qatar, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Iceland. The island was used to screen potential visa seekers, with apartments, hotels, and other services set aside for different groups of migrants to cover the costs of their stay on the island, according to the Cyprus Times. But on Monday, the paper reported that the country would revert to a labor system for those who arrive, pending an audit into the Gulf state of Qatar.
Opposition leader Nicos Anastasiades was among those who denounced the scheme. “This is a scandal, this is scandalous, this is another way of hosing foreigners,” he said.
The criticism of the initiative comes at a time when the island of Cyprus, where the government has poured hundreds of millions of euros into the economy since the 2016 bailout, is facing serious issues. A lot of money from wealthy individuals in the Gulf state of Qatar went into small luxury hotels in Limassol, according to The Guardian.
“I think what is notable about this scheme is that it runs entirely contrary to the aspirations of the people of Cyprus,” said Luke Coffey, from the Heritage Foundation, who served as USAID’s Bureau Chief for the Middle East from 2003 to 2005. “The hope for Cyprus is that this money will help to counteract the flood of money and citizenship from the Middle East,” he said.