'Golden visa' residence scheme suspended for Russians and Belarusians

On April 7 in a final reading, the Saeima supported urgent amendments to the Immigration Law which suspend the issuance of first temporary residence permits to citizens of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus until June 30, 2023. 

At the same time, there are exceptions based on family reunification, international protection, employment, the need for study, as well as national interests or humanitarian considerations. 

The legal framework for issuing or registering and revoking residence permits has also been supplemented. It has been established that the issuance or registration of a residence permit may also be refused in cases where the competent state authorities have established that a foreigner has publicly glorified, denied or justified genocide, a crime against humanity, a crime against peace, or a war crime. 

This will also be possible if it is established that the foreigner has provided significant financial, material, propaganda, technological or other support to persons or states that undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of democracies or their constitutional systems, or have carried out acts or otherwise acted contrary to the interests of national security, public order and safety. 

A decade ago, the prospect of securing a Latvian residence permit and hence the freedom to travel throughout the Schengen zone was widely marketed by banks and other bodies looking to lure wealthy clients from the east. Buying upscale properties was a popular method of qualifying for residence, the argument being that real estate investments contribued something to the Latvian economy.  

However, a major clean-up of the boutique banking sector and several previous rounds tightening up the rules on obtaining residence permits have seen a significant reduction in the numbers applying for residence permits.

Latvia has issued a total of 46,472 temporary residence permits to foreigners. Of these, 10,347 are to Russian citizens. Almost half bought them by purchasing real estate. Adding permanent residence permits, more than 50,000 Russian citizens are allowed to live in Latvia.

In a further move Thursday, the Saeima supported, in a first reading, amendments to the Citizenship Law that would allow the stripping of Latvian citizenship from persons who support war crimes or other internationally punishable crimes against another democratic state. 

If and when the measures are passed after a second reading, a person may be deprived of Latvian citizenship even if he or she has provided significant financial, material, propaganda, technological or other support to persons, states or other entities that have committed crimes against peace, genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

The decision on deprivation of citizenship will be taken by the Administrative District Court, and its decision will be subject to appeal to the Supreme Court, whose decision will be final.

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