Malta is at risk of being excluded from the USA Visa Waiver Program, also known as the ESTA program. The reason behind this is Maltaʼs so-called "Golden Passport" scheme.
A passport in exchange for investment
The "Golden Passport" scheme allows individuals to get a passport faster than usual by investing in Malta. Critics claims that the scheme makes it easy to buy passports rather than having to meet the strict requirements that apply to others. As a result, these schemes are popular among criminals like human traffickers, who can easily arrange passports which would be a lot more difficult to obtain in other countries. Malta is not the only European country with a "Golden Passport" scheme: Bulgaria and Cyprus offer this possibility as well. The European Union has called on countries to end this type of scheme. Bulgaria and Cyprus have indicated that they will do so, but Malta has not yet made any commitments.
ESTA coveted by many countries
Admission to the USA Visa Waiver Program is coveted by many countries. Travellers from countries that are part of the program do not need to apply for a visa to travel to America for less than 90 days. Instead, they can opt for an ESTA. ESTAs are not only cheaper than visas, but also acquired much faster, often vetted the same day. The burden on embassies in eligible countries is significantly reduced, too, as an ESTA does not require an inyterview. Once the ESTA form is filled out and payment goes through, the application gets processed.
The requirements to be admitted to the Visa Waiver Program are strict. For example, the countryʼs total number of rejected visa applications to the USA must be less than 3%. Additionally, the travellersʼ personal information must be shared with the American security services. 40 countries are currently part of this program. Others, such as Israel, have been in talks with the American government for years in order to be admitted.
USA not content to wait
The United States do not seem intent on waiting for Malta and other “Golden Passport” countries to get their act together. Two members of Congress have introduced a bill that would make it possible to exclude such countries from the ESTA program. Applying for an ESTA is a lot easier than a visa, making it easier to enter the USA. One of the congressmen announced that the decision will hit human traffickers especially hard. Currently, a “Golden Passport” is just as valid for international travel as other passports. It is difficult for authorities to tell if a passport was granted through the scheme.
The bill also states that the United States will work with the EU and the UK to restrict visa-free travel to the Schengen area for “Golden Passport” countries.
Take note: this news article about the ESTA for the USA is more than one year old. It might contain outdated information and advice, and no rights can therefore be derived from this article. Are you going on a trip soon and do you wish to do know what rules currently apply? Read all about the up-to-date information about the ESTA for the USA.