The US Congress will consider a cross-party legislative initiative introduced jointly by Republican Congressman Burgess Owens and Democrat Congressman Steve Cohen that would ban countries that sell their citizenship, such as Malta, from the program that allows their citizens to enter the US without applying for a visa.

Malta joined the United States’ visa waiver program in 2009 after years of diplomatic efforts by the Maltese authorities. 37 other countries are part of the program including the UK, Italy, Germany, and Australia. Most EU countries are included in the American program, but EU membership alone is no guarantee of inclusion. Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania remain excluded from the program.

The visa waiver program allows holders of Maltese passports to travel to the US for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa for business or tourism. Buyers of Maltese passports benefit from the scheme as they are treated at immigration in the US as Maltese citizens in full effect. Analysts have long warned this is a security risk for the United States as a purchased passport helps its holder hide their true identity and intentions.

Congressmen Owens and Cohen said Russia is “one of the world’s worst offenders when it comes to using these golden passport schemes as a back door into other countries.” Russian nationals are believed to be the largest contingent of beneficiaries of Malta’s passport selling scheme.

Congressman Burgess Owens said in a statement that “human trafficking kingpins and other international criminal enterprises rely heavily on their passport purchasing power to freely travel the world, establish a foothold in multiple countries, open bank accounts, and evade accountability,” said Rep. Owens.

“The No Travel for Traffickers Act addresses the severe security risks of golden passports, signalling a critical step in our efforts to isolate bad actors around the globe. Giving traffickers the ability to purchase passports or extending citizenship rights allows them to travel the world and escape accountability for their crimes.”

Leading Democratic Party Congressman Owens who sits on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee and serves on the House Ethics Committee remarked that “many countries sell citizenship to traffickers through phony ‘investments’ such as real estate, and this must be stopped. I am proud to join Congressman Owens in introducing the No Travel for Traffickers Act, which will help restrict this misuse of the legal process.”

Indeed, Malta’s minimum investment requirement for passport buyers is a contract for a lease of property for five years. Often the property is a garage or an uninhabited basement or attic where nobody lives, a reality that fits in the description “phony investments”.

The two Congressmen quote Marshall Billingslea, former Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing at the US Department of the Treasury say that they “are leading to protect (American) security by introducing bipartisan legislation to clamp down on the dangerous practice by some countries who sell their citizenship and passports. These so-called ‘golden passport’ schemes are abused by criminals and traffickers from around the world, and this practice needs to come to an end.”

Maltese passport holders of Russian origin are currently in the news as Western allies seek to clamp down on the infiltration of Vladimir Putin’s oligarchs.

The US federal government is yet to express a view on the draft legislation. The consent of the White House consent will be required for the proposal to become law.

Malta’s exclusion from the visa waiver program would not only be a blow to Malta’s international standing. It would ironically also reduce the value of Maltese passports to those who spent millions to purchase them.