14 Jun Forging a robust and internationally enticing profile for Malta
Charles Mizzi, CEO, Malta Residency Visa Agency, believes that the pandemic provided Malta with the impetus to think long-term
How would you describe your experience during this last year and in what ways did you shift or refocus your priorities to tackle the challenges and opportunities that have emerged during this time?
The past 12 months have been incredibly challenging for everyone, and Residency Malta was no exception. From an operational standpoint, we made some internal changes to allow some of our employees to work remotely. We still needed to have people in our offices, to see to the needs of the agents submitting new applications and clients who would eventually travel to Malta to complete their applications. Over the last six months, we have been working on a new IT system to improve internal processing and to put us in a position where we will eventually receive part of the application process digitally, as well. This would improve our efficiency and allow us to respond better in situations like the pandemic. Agents and applicants will be able to reach us more easily and submit part of an application online.
The last 12 months have also been fruitful because we were able to process a lot more applications than we used to. COVID-19 gave us more time to dedicate to such applications, and now we are processing applications as they come in. We have reduced the turnaround time to within four to six months. This gives us enough time to review the applications thoroughly and allow applicants to reply to any questions that may arise in the due diligence process.
Furthermore, we had time to assess the entire structure of the programme and we came up with a new residency by investment proposition, building on the strong points of the old programme with some additional features aiming to provide more value to our target audience. It is a win-win situation for both the country and the applicant. We made sure to involve stakeholders in the process, and I am proud to say the feedback from agents has been positive.
The new programme will be called Malta Permanent Residence Programme. The changes are mainly in terms of the contribution. Prospective applicants will still have two options to choose from, either to buy or rent a property in Malta. If they decide to buy a property, they will have to contribute EUR 68,000. If they rent, the contribution will go up to EUR 98,000. Over and above that, they will need to make a EUR 2,000 donation to a local NGO to strengthen the link with the local community. Property purchase prices will also go up by EUR 30,000. Applicants may either buy property in the southern region of Malta, for example in Gozo, or else in the rest of the country. In the South and Gozo minimum price is EUR 300,000, while in the rest of Malta, the price would be a minimum of EUR 350,000. The property rental thresholds will remain the same, EUR 10,000 per annum for rental in the South and Gozo, and EUR 12,000 in the rest of Malta.
Part of this reorganisation exercise also include a change in the agency name. The Agency will now be called Residency Malta Agency.
How is the rollout of the vaccinations going? Are you seeing a rise in business sentiment and what areas, specifically, are you seeing more confidence?
Official statistics show that the vaccination process is going very well in Malta. We are among the top countries to have had success in the rollout. We have already given over 100,000 vaccines in a population of less than 500,000 people, and 40,000 have already received the second dose. The government is doing very well with the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines and expects that by summer we should see a shift towards normality. The prospects seem to be positive, although we will need to wait and see. This was an unprecedented event, and nobody had a magic formula to avoid it.
Why should investors, professionals and digital nomads choose Malta as a new place of residence? What are Malta’s main advantages compared to other competitive destinations in the region?
To start with, Malta is a very safe country. I emphasize this, because our principal target market comprises family units, people who want to give better opportunities to their families, better education, healthcare, and they want to bring up their families in a very safe environment. We have a very stable and democratic jurisdiction. This gives peace of mind to investors who want to come to Malta to raise their children. We have a robust economy, one of the best in Europe. Our climate is also a strong point. The sun shines 300 days of the year. This is something our visitors value enormously as they do not have this experience at home.
Living in Malta is much easier than in other countries. The Maltese are a hospitable and welcoming people. We also have a large expat community which is a big help when people are choosing a place to live. There is a mix of many varied cultures and communities, yet English is an official language, so people find it easy to communicate. The level of education is high with a large selection of both public and private schools, and the healthcare system is state-of-the-art, one of the best in the world. These are just some of the factors that make Malta an attractive proposition to our target audience.
What are the types of targets you have established as part of the new Malta Permanent Residence Programme, both in terms of revenue, but also in terms of new talent arriving to Malta?
In terms of revenue, we already had impressive results with the previous programme. Over five years, we generated around EUR 50 million, 20 million of which were garnered last year alone. Applications are still being processed, so we expect the current programme to generate even more revenue stream. With the recent changes we have made, we are optimistic that profits will grow even further, tripling what we have had so far. Obviously, one must be cautious with projections and allow time for the new programme to kick in, but we are looking forward to it having a positive impact on the local community.
How would you characterize the evolution of standards in the residency and citizenship by investment industry and what strategies are you applying in your agency’s due diligence and standard setting processes to ensure that the highest levels are continuously upheld?
One needs to be close to the sector to be aware of the level of detail that goes into analysing an application. It takes a lot of time, effort, resources and even money, and it is something that we pride ourselves in because we are not after quantity, but quality. We only want those who are suited to Malta to make it through the programme. We have a four-tier due diligence programme which starts by checking the documentation that we receive to make sure that applicants are providing the correct information. Then, we perform seven different checks on police databases to make sure that there is no criminal history involving the candidates. We go into a great deal of detail involving source of wealth, source of funds, and we also commission reports from top due diligence companies worldwide, which costs a substantial amount of money. Eventually, when we have all this information in hand, we construct a story for each application which is then presented to an Approvals Board who makes further inquiries before deciding on whether an application is approved or not. Throughout the course of the process, we also ask questions to applicants if there is anything missing or if something does not make sense. We might seek further qualifications to make sure that we have the true and full picture of each application before rendering a decision.
Around 10 percent of applications are rejected by us, which is standard and about three to four percent of applications are withdrawn following questions to applicants. With 15 percent not making it through, you can see it is a legitimate and efficient filtering system. This gives a lot of confidence to those that are granted admission.
What are your views on the trend of programmes attracting digital nomads with one or two-year visas? How is Residency Malta Agency leveraging the opportunities that have come about from the current surge in remote working?
At the moment we are also working on a nomad residence permit which is similar to what other countries are offering with some differentiating factors. We are currently working on the processes and we will be launching it in the coming weeks. This is not something completely new, because digital nomads are already present in Malta. They are made up of European workers who came to Malta to work from here namely for our climate, environment, and the infrastructure. Given that Europeans can travel with no restrictions within the EU we already have a thriving community of Europeans who are working remotely from Malta.
This new initiative will target third country nationals who need a permit to travel to Malta and reside here, stay for short periods, and do business or work remotely from our country. We would like to entice them to stay for longer periods of time, potentially invest here in Malta, open a business, and settle here for the long term. The plan we are designing will be flexible and straightforward, making these options easy to apply for.
What are some of the latest highlights of Malta’s ‘future proof’ economy and which high-growth sectors would you pinpoint as having the most demand to-day for new talent?
Malta has attracted several new sectors such as gaming, pharmaceutical, shipping, aviation, and FinTech. This has helped us position ourselves as a top global player. I would say the gaming industry and the financial services industry have been crucial in helping us attract big investments and talent.
Pre-COVID-19 we were already attracting a huge number of foreign workers to Malta. To be fair, we still maintain a lot of those employees. I believe the latest statistics show around 60,00 foreign employees here in Malta. It may not sound like much, but considering the Maltese population, the ratio of foreign employees here in Malta is high. Hopefully after the pandemic subsides, we will retain this growth as it helps to inject more money into the economy.
What would be your final message for our readers of Newsweek?
Malta has been and always will be a welcoming country to entrepreneurs who want to settle here or expand their business. Our strategic location makes us a gateway for entrepreneurs to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. We go that extra mile to attract new business and make visitors feel at ease and look at Malta as their second home.
When it comes to our own sector, the future looks bright. We look forward to what the new programme will bring to the country. Feedback from agents has been extremely positive, and we are hopeful that it will help to attract more talent to Malta. Our aim is to entice people to settle here and bring their families to continue the growth we have had over the last few years.
There are new projects in the pipeline, and we will continue to assess the residency programme with new options to be introduced in the coming months, so quite an interesting and busy period is ahead. It is our intent to make Malta the place to be.