This week, the media claimed that Latvia has introduced restrictions on the issuing of residence permits to Russians applying under the "investment programme". We've tried to work out what has actually happened.
The Latvian "investment programme" was launched in July 2010, when amendments were made to the 2002 Immigration Law. Since then, the amount of investment needed by the residents of third countries wishing to obtain an "investment" residence permit in Latvia has increased many times over. The programme has proved to be very popular. Figures published by Latvia's Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs show that over 48,000 temporary residence permits had been issued in Latvia by 1 January 2014[1
]. Those who apply under the investment programme are mainly citizens of Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan[2
The question of whether to introduce restrictions on foreigners' obtaining a Latvian residence permit (and, at the same time, visa-free entry to the Schengen countries) had been widely discussed in Latvia even before the "Ukrainian events". A year ago, in October 2013, the newspapers were reporting a split in the camp of Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis over the need to introduce immigration quotas for the "investment programme"[3
This year, against the backdrop of European sanctions, Latvian MPs have been concerned about whether the large number of Russians obtaining residence permits in Latvia (mainly by buying expensive properties) poses a threat to the country's national security. In September, the Defence, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention Committee of the Latvian Saeima (parliament) heard a report from the Ministry of the Interior on the checks carried out on residence permit applicants. On 21 October, the committee decided in favour of amending the Immigration Law. One of the recommendations for which the Committee voted is to suspend the issuing of residence permits to Russian citizens until the crisis in Ukraine is resolved. At the moment, though, these are only committee recommendations. Actual amendments to the law will have to be considered by the Saeima, and that will not happen before the next Saeima meets. Until amendments to the law are adopted, everything remains unchanged for Russian investors.
Russian publications, in particular, are focusing on the fact that the Saeima may never vote for the proposed amendments, since closure of the Latvian "investor programme" for Russian nationals threatens to inflict significant economic losses on Latvia[4
Our readers should note that, unlike citizenship of the European Union, a Latvian residence permit (just like a residence permit in any other European country) does not confer the right to live in other European Union countries. Unfortunately, we often come across situations where people decide to go ahead with an "immigration investment programme" without being fully aware of the whole range of rights and obligations that apply to the investor and members of his family. The most widespread misconception is the belief that the holder of a Latvian residence permit can move around Europe unrestricted. That is not the case. It should be borne in mind that the Schengen rules do not allow persons who are not European Union citizens to stay in the Schengen countries for more than 90 days in each 180-day period[5
]. Thus, the holders of a residence permit in any European Union country, including Latvia, are restricted in their travels around the Schengen countries by the same time limits as apply to the holders of ordinary tourist visas.
30 October 2014