Source: Spiegel International
Hundreds of poverty-stricken refugees are drowning in the Mediterranean, while at the same time, many European Union member states issue residence permits to wealthy Chinese, Arabs and Russians. Anyone is welcome who can pay the asking price.
When the shutters come up inside Latvia’s immigration office at 8 a.m., they are waiting: Well-to-do Russians, Kazakhs and Chinese accompanied by their interpreters and advisors with sales contracts in hand. Some have been property owners in Latvia for just hours; many are in the capital Riga for the first time, most simply in transit. And they all want just one thing from the office: The residence permit. Their ticket to Central Europe.
The residence permit program attracts thousands of foreigners to Latvia. Hardly any of them will end up living here. But anyone who buys property worth at least 50,000 Lats (€71,000 or $96,500) in the provinces or 100,000 Lats in major cities such as Riga receives a five-year residency permit. And that means unfettered access to the border-less Schengen zone, to which 26 European states are signed up. The Latvian government introduced the controversial program to save the Baltic state’s ailing property market. Now it is being mimicked by other countries in Europe.
Money in exchange for a Schengen visa — governments in Greece, Spain and Hungary are using this offer to try and attract new investors from around the world. The model undermines Europe’s strict asylum and immigration laws. And the tragedy off Lampedusa, where more than 150 Africans drowned last week when their boat caught fire and sank, has shown how morally dubious it is.