Residence permits taken from dozens of foreigners in Latvia

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Several dozen people have had their right to reside in Latvia rescinded and their temporary residence permits removed, according to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (PMLP) January 15. 

The details can be found in an informative report prepared by the Ministry of the Interior on granting temporary residence permits to investors, Maira Roze, deputy head of the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, said this morning in an interview with Latvian Radio.

In some cases the action has been taken as a result of suspicions the people in question might be working for foreign intelligence services, though that is not the main reason for refusing residence permits in most cases.

PMLP vice-head Maira Roze told Latvian Radio January 15 that safety risks are not the chief reason why residency permits are not extended. People whose companies don't pay taxes likewise are often refused an extension.

"First of all we refuse people who want permanent residency permits, because these people - foreigners living here on temporary residency permits - have to have lived the greater part of the past five years in Latvia. Their period of absence mustn't exceed 12 months within this period," she said, pointing out that even cumulative business trips could take an individual over the one-year limit

Furthermore, Roze said about 20% of people using temporary residency permits are routinely vetted by the authorities for various reasons. 

Third-country nationals often obtain temporary residency permits by way of investment. This measure was introduced during the economic downturn. 

In 2014, a total of 5,603 people obtained a permit by investing into companies, property, or making a substantial bank deposit.

The figure dropped to 1,355 in 2015 and just 609 in 2016 as the state introduced tighter vetting and higher investment requirements. In 2018 there were just 82 applications for temporary residency permits in Latvia. 

On Tuesday, the Government is planning to review the report on temporary residence permits issued in exchange for investments in real estate, capital deposits at banks, equity capital of companies registered in Latvia or government securities. 

Data collected by the PMLP show that the temporary residence permit program introduced during the crisis years, ostensibly as an economic boost, has lost popularity in recent years after regulations were tightened. The number of cases where previous residence permits are no longer extended has increased.

Often the reason for not renewing temporary residence permits is that the recipient is unable to meet the statutory requirements for taxes payable to the state budget.

"The activity is very low, with fewer than a hundred applications. The program no longer has any new force," said Rose.

The residence-for-investment program attracted considerable criticism when it was launched, particularly in the way non-resident banks would attempt to woo customers of dubious connection to Latvia to obtain what were often termed "EU residence permits". 

The drop-off in applications has been sharp. Last year, just 82 applications for temporary residence permits were received in Latvia. In 2014, the number of such applications exceeded 2,500.

According to PMLP statistics, in 2010 2,495 first-time temporary residence permits were issued and a remarkable 6,123 first-time permanent residence permits.

The scheme then grew so that in 2013 more than 7,000 first-time temporary residence permits were issued in addition to 3.089 permanent residence permits.

According to the cabinet document, between 1 July 2010 and 30 June 2018, as part of the investment program, the PMLP received requests for temporary residence permits from 18 461 persons, including 7 545  investors and 10 916 members of their families.

17 878 temporary residence permits were issued during this period. In 165 cases, the request was refused but in 3,278 the permit was subsequently cancelled.

Since the introduction of the scheme in 2010, people from more than 50 different countries applied, but two-thirds of the number were from the Russian Federation, and 90% were from countries of the former Soviet Union.

In April 2016, the Saeima approved amendments to the Immigration Law, which entitle the government to restrict or suspend the issue of temporary residence permits to nationals of certain third countries. Following the approval of the amendments to the law, the demand for temporary residence permits has diminished dramatically.

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