Vanuatu's Temporary Suspension from Visa-Free Access to Europe

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Starting in the latter part of 2022, the European Union is set to introduce the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). ETIAS is a travel document that allows non-European citizens access to the European Union member states - all 27 of them. ETIAS will only be a requirement for non-Europeans, as holders of the European passport can freely enter and exit any of the European Union's member states.
ETIAS-free travel is more straightforward than processing ETIAS and, in theory, should be available to only European citizens. However, having met specific requirements and conditions, some countries can access Europe without an ETIAS or European visa. Citizens from these countries need not provide an ETIAS before traveling. An excellent example of such countries is Vanuatu.
Vanuatu is a small South Pacific Ocean country and was previously numbered as a part of the countries whose citizens can gain entry to Europe without an ETIAS visa. The visa-free access into Europe enjoyed by Vanuatu's citizens was temporarily suspended and took effect from January 2020. The suspension, although temporary, was based on several broken rules and breaches by the Vanuatu authorities. The European Union has released a statement saying that the ban could become permanent if the violations are not addressed appropriately.

The cause of Vanuatu's temporary suspension

The cause of Vanuatu's temporary suspension can be traced back to late 2017, just a few years after the European Union signed a visa-waiver agreement with them in 2015. Vanuatu appeared on a list of countries without non-corporate tax and was suspected of assisting money laundering by turning a blind eye and promoting tax evasion. It was also thought to be financing terrorism, and all of these happened in 2017.
Vanuatu's authorities introducing the golden visa scheme also played a part in the temporary suspension. In 2016, the government of Vanuatu introduced two citizenships by investment schemes - the VCP (Vanuatu Contribution Programme) and the VDSP (Vanuatu Development Support Programme). These schemes offered citizenship to individuals who invested a minimum of £100,000, or $130,000 in Vanuatu, and were tagged "Golden citizenship." This golden citizenship would give you Vanuatu's passport, which can, in turn, be used to enter the European Union freely.
Concerns, however, rose in 2019 over the golden citizenship scheme as a mode of Vanuatu's citizenship. The European Union realized that Vanuatu's authorities might not have put due diligence into carrying out background checks on individuals being offered golden citizenship.
The European Union required Vanuatu's government to make changes to the golden citizenship scheme by putting due diligence into background checks on benefactors of the scheme. After a while, when the authorities did not review the screening process for Vanuatu's golden citizenship scheme, the European Union moved forward with a temporary suspension on the visa-waiver.
The suspension was made known to the general public through a press release dated the 12th of January, 2022. Vanuatu was given two months of notice from the day of the release for resolution. However, Vanuatu's government has the right to appeal the decision of the European Union in the future.

The Implication of Vanuatu's Golden Citizenship in The European Union

The European Union took action to temporarily suspend the travel of Vanuatu's citizens into Europe due to the security implications of the golden citizenship scheme on the member states of the European Union. Concerns were raised that the golden citizenship scheme was a masked model to allow questionable people into Europe without checks. The European Union introduced the ETIAS system for non-European citizens to prevent terrorists and criminals from gaining access to the EU. Here are some of the concerns the EU had about the golden citizenship scheme:
  • Some wanted individuals on Interpol's list were given Vanuatu's golden citizenship.
  • The rate of rejection of these applications was marginal. Prior to the scrutiny by the European Union in 2020, only one visa refusal was recorded.
  • Vanuatu's government did not give enough time to ensure proper screening of the applicants. The application time was shorter than you would expect.
  • Many of the successful applicants of the scheme came from countries that require a visa to enter Europe.
This poses a security risk to the European Union because individuals who would be required to provide a Schengen Visa to enter Europe could enter Europe without a visa if they went the route of owning a Vanuatu visa. It was also pointed out that the government of Vanuatu used visa-free access to the European Union as a marketing point to attract individuals to invest in their golden citizenship scheme.
These made it attractive for questionable individuals to invest in the golden citizenship scheme. Individuals wanted on the Interpol list also gained access to Europe through Vanuatu, hence the decision of the European Union to temporarily suspend Vanuatu's citizens.

What Does This Mean for Vanuatu Citizens?

Vanuatu's citizens and passport holders whose passports are dated later than the 25th of May 2015, either via the golden citizenship scheme or by birth, will not be able to travel to Europe visa-free anymore. The citizens will be required to provide a Schengen Visa, as they will not be eligible for the ETIAS visa waiver when it comes into action later in 2022.
Unlike the ETIAS application, the Schengen visa has to be carried out in person. You will be required to present relevant documents pertaining to the European trip and go for an interview at the relevant embassy. The Schengen visa will be the only mode of permitting Vanuatu's citizens into Europe until the golden citizenship scheme concerns have been eliminated or addressed appropriately.
These steps will ensure that the risk associated with Vanuatu's unchecked golden citizens is placed under check, and the security of the European Union is guaranteed. The EU will monitor the situation pertaining to Vanuatu and lift the ban if it is no longer necessary; however, Vanuatu may risk a permanent removal from the European visa-free list if improvements are not made.
In conclusion, the decision of Vanuatu's citizens to enjoy a visa-free entry into any of the European Union's member states is dependent on their government to resolve the standing issues regarding its golden citizenship scheme. Although the suspension is temporary, it could lead to a permanent exclusion if nothing is done in the nearest future.
Written by: Fikayomi Abisola
Abisola is an ETIAS Travel and Immigration writer with several years of writing experience in the industry. Abisola has a unique enthusiasm for travels, tours, and tourism and loves to educate travellers about the criteria involved in international travelling.

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