Cyprus Pushes for Schengen Accession

Cyprus Pushes for Schengen Accession

Cyprus is making a concerted effort to join the European Union’s (EU) borderless Schengen Area in 2024 while simultaneously facing pressure to reform its controversial Golden Visa program for investors amid accusations of lax vetting procedures.

The island nation’s foreign minister emphasized Cyprus’ Schengen aspirations as a priority next year during a budget meeting at parliament this week.

This comes on the heels of an audit report urging tighter background checks on wealthy applicants acquiring residency rights under the country’s citizen investment scheme.

The dual developments hold ramifications for third-country travelers seeking long-term EU residency and have broader implications for European immigration policy.

Bid to Join the Schengen Area by 2024

Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos declared Cyprus’ ambition to secure Schengen membership in 2024 as part of the foreign ministry’s action plan for next year.

“Cyprus’ accession to the Schengen Area and the Visa Waiver program are one of the foreign ministry’s top priorities for next year,” Kombos told lawmakers on the House finance committee while presenting the 2023-2024 agenda.

Cyprus has been a European Union member state since 2004.

While Cypriots enjoy freedom of movement across the 27-nation bloc, the eastern Mediterranean island itself is not yet part of the Schengen area guaranteeing unrestricted cross-border travel within member states.

Kombos stressed the importance of protecting Cyprus’ interests within the EU framework. 

“Our foreign policy revolves around the comparative advantages we have, which include protecting the Republic of Cyprus at all costs, creating favorable conditions for reunification and taking advantage of our status as an EU member state, at all levels and for all issues,” he stated.

The foreign minister emphasized Cyprus had “significant potential to exploit” as well as “major challenges to face” in its foreign policy. He highlighted the country would expand regional multilateralism and “positive branding abroad” as crucial to achieving key foreign policy goals.

Cyprus’ current Schengen evaluation process tests its readiness to join the passport-free travel zone covering over 400 million European citizens. 

The country gained partial access to the Schengen Information System, a database supporting external border management in July this year.

Stricter Investment Visa Vetting Procedures

In parallel to its Schengen aspirations, Cyprus grapples with accusations of lax vetting in its lucrative Golden Visa program catering to wealthy foreign investors, prompting calls for an overhaul of the scheme.

An audit report found the interior ministry approved investor residence permits without sufficient evidence, backing up claims of proper investment levels in Cyprus. 

The probe also discovered residence visas granted to individuals who either obtained permanent resident status in other nations simultaneously or remained outside Cyprus for prolonged periods in violation of eligibility rules.

Around 5,800 investors have taken advantage of the program since its 2013 launch by investing at least €300,000 in Cyprus property in exchange for residency rights and eventual passport access. However, the auditor general’s findings exposed deficiencies in background screening procedures and monitoring investor compliance with visa terms.

In response, the Interior Ministry has aligned itself with recommendations for more stringent applicant vetting standards and ongoing immigration permit reviews. This includes requiring investors to submit annual proof of residence in Cyprus as well as demanding updated criminal history checks every three years. 

Failure to provide documentation could now result in visa cancellations for investors and family dependents.

The Cypriot audit office has gone a step further in urging the outright abolition of the Golden Visa regime in light of the latest revelations. 

The scheme has come under intense scrutiny following leaked records in the Cyprus Papers linking approved investor citizenship applicants to money laundering risks and organized crime – sparking calls for reform by anti-graft watchdogs and the European Commission.

Impact on Travelers and Immigrants

The proposed changes to Cyprus’ investment visa program and prospective Schengen membership carry implications for third-country nationals contemplating long-term relocation to Europe.

The new stringent background checks on Golden Visa applicants could affect families, investors, digital nomads, students, and other immigrant categories weighing up Cyprus as an immigration gateway into the EU.

The elimination of the investment scheme itself would force such applicants to pursue alternative residency pathways.

At the same time, Cyprus’ potential accession into the Schengen zone next year expands immigration options on the island.

Third-country travelers would gain visa-free short-term access to the entire Schengen area for tourism, business, and other purposes upon securing a Schengen Visa permitting 90-day stays in any 180-day period within member states.

Meanwhile, travelers to the Schengen Area will need to secure an ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) starting May 2025. 

The ETIAS is an upcoming visa waiver program that will require travelers from over 60 countries to obtain electronic authorization before entering the Schengen Area. Once operational, it will apply to all Schengen member countries.

Longer-term residency would still require navigating national immigration regimes like Cyprus’ Golden Visa program. 

However, Schengen membership facilitates intra-EU mobility once legally residing in Cyprus or another member state.

Impact on EU Immigration Policy

Cyprus’ reforms echo a wider European crackdown on investment-based residency fast-tracks to balance openness with program integrity. 

Recent scandals linking approved Golden Visa recipients with criminal money trails have fueled criticism. 

The European Commission has additionally accused such schemes of undermining equality, transparency, and the rule of law.

As a result, immigration authorities across the EU have moved to tighten due diligence procedures, eligibility criteria, and post-entry monitoring of visa holders – as exemplified by Cyprus’ latest actions. 

Stricter background vetting aligns with EU efforts to ensure immigration channels cannot be exploited by dubious applicants.

Outlook for Travelers and the EU

Cyprus’ twin goals of joining the Schengen zone while revamping its Golden Visa regime signify a strategic recalibration of the country’s immigration and border policies. 

Although increased scrutiny of investor permits adds a complication for residency applicants, prospective Schengen accession expands visitor access and intra-EU mobility rights. 

The developments ultimately realign Cyprus closer to EU standards for security, equality, and rule of law in managing external migration flows.