Immigration law amendments passed

The Latvian parliament or Saeima on Thursday passed controversial amendments to the Immigration Law that will see third-country nationals having to pay €5,000 into state coffers to renew residence permits.

Saeima passed a number of amendments to the Immigration Law in the final reading after President Raimonds Vejonis initially refused to sign them into law, citing low quality drafting of some amendments.

However, despite some tinkering, the version passed Thursday keeps most of the content of the original law in place.

According to the amendments, prolonging temporary residence permits will cost €5,000, payable into the state budget, for those third-country citizens who were issued their permits for investing in Latvia.

The large sum required for a renewal had been criticized in some quarters as penalising the growing number of middle-class Russians, including many journalists and artists, who have moved to Latvia to enjoy its democratic freedom, while having no impact on the Kremlin-friendly oligarchs who own multi-million euro villas in Jurmala and elsewhere.

Only time can tell whether the amendments will drive such people to neighboring countries instead.

This will not apply to some categories of investors, for instance, those who invest in state-owned companies, and investors who have bought real estate in Latvia before previous 2014 amendments came into force.

Another provision gives the Cabinet of Ministers the right to assess the effect of temporary residence permits on the national security or economic development of Latvia, and impose sweeping restrictions on issuing such permits for up to five years. The restrictions may apply to all third-country citizens as well as to citizens of one specific third country.

The Cabinet will only use this right in order to avert risks related to national security, unity of society, increasing rates of organized crime and others.

The amendments also describe the minimum values of real estate across Latvia and investment amounts that entitle a third-country citizen, buying property or investing in a company in Latvia, to a temporary residence permit.

A third-country national may be stripped of his or her residence permit if he or she has tax debts exceeding €150.

The amendments will come into force on July 1, 2016.

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