23 May Interview with Charles Mizzi, CEO of Residency Malta Agency
BF: Malta is one of only four EU countries with projected economic growth rates of about 1% in 2023. The country is now banking on new knowledge-based sectors as part of its long-term development goals. What key factors have led to Malta’s fast economic rebound in the last few years, and why is it an attractive destination for both investment and residency?
Charles Mizzi: A key factor was the fact that the government adopted a very pro-business model. Even in these turbulent times that we’ve had with COVID-19, and all the issues that we’ve had, government has always backed up investors. It provided support, both financially and in terms of creating a model structure within the business administration, assisting to attract new investment to Malta.
Obviously, this gave people confidence. People invested. Existing investors expanded their business. This has led to create new job opportunities. In fact, one of the biggest problems that Malta has at the moment is to find actual workers. The unemployment rate is very negligible. Malta had to resort to foreign nationals to come to Malta to fill in the job opportunities that we have: the common problem that there is among businessmen, among employers and even ourselves is to find people. This is the biggest headache that we have.
This led also to a positive sentiment among the citizens, among the society, in the sense that, if the economy is doing well, it leaves a positive effect on the people; people from all sorts of spending power can live a better life and improve it. This is all linked together. This is what made Malta a success and what distinguishes us from the rest. Even at the moment, when we are trying to recuperate from the pandemic and the energy crisis, government is giving full support to businesses and private individuals by subsidizing energy bills, for example. This is helping to retain the positive growth and the positive impact that it’s having on the economy. This is where programs like ours come in, because it can provide financial aid through government. Our ultimate aim is, apart from attracting talent and attracting the right people, to generate funding, which goes to the consolidated fund of the government, which eventually is further reinvested in the local economy.
BF: Residency Malta Agency recently announced it had made more than €50 million in 2022 through its various initiatives, with €33.4 million coming from its MPRP (Malta Permanent Residency Program). Can you give our readers a description of what the MPRP program offers and what Residency Malta has done to hit such levels of success in its residency scheme?
Charles Mizzi: The MPRP is the residency by investment program. It offers families coming from third countries, countries outside of the EU, the possibility to reside in Malta permanently. The immigration sector is not something new; it has been going on for a long time. But after COVID-19, people started realizing more and more the importance of having a backup, because of the well-documented political and economic issues that some people face in their home country. Families always look to provide a better opportunity to their children and to their family. They are always on the lookout for such opportunities.
The MPRP is a program which provides that. It’s a key for these people to get a second residency option, a second home, so that they can move and give a better opportunity to their family. Most of our applicants are basically family units with young children who come to Malta to give better education to their children; families that are doing well in their business. But they want to expand their business further and tap into the European market, or possibly the North African market, considering the strategic location of Malta between North Africa and Europe. They are people who want to access a very high standard healthcare (Malta ranks among the top five in the world), basic needs that, unfortunately, are not available everywhere. This is what the MPRP gives.
Obviously, the way the program is structured, the way the program has been revamped in 2021, makes it also possible for government to garner new funds from these individuals. People have to pay a contribution to be able to get permanent residency. This money is then eventually reinvested in the local economy. It goes to healthcare, to road infrastructure or to the education sector. Obviously, all this is provided by government for free, and this is where all this money goes to. In a way, even these people who are putting their money in Malta will be actually benefiting from the investment they are doing, because they will be the ones, like us, who will benefit from better road infrastructure, better health care and better education.
BF: Like many countries, Malta has set up a specific visa for digital nomads. By January 2022 the program received 680 applications, with most applicants being from the UK and the U.S. Why has Malta chosen to focus on this segment, and how is Malta’s digital nomad visa competitive compared to other markets?
Charles Mizzi: By December, we’d attracted around 680 applications. The program started from the feedback we got and research we did into the market. We realized that the number of digital nomads — remote workers that were coming to Malta to work from here — was growing. There was already a community mainly made up of internationals. Obviously, they have freedom of movement, they could come to Malta anytime and there was this growing community: young people coming to Malta to work remotely from here; a very active community.
The issue that there was at the time was that it was a bit difficult for third country nationals to come as well. After the pandemic, there was this hunger to travel abroad. COVID-19 showed us that remote working is possible, because, even ourselves, we were all working remotely. We thought, why not look at this opportunity to see if we can attract and grow the digital nomad community in Malta even more, so we launched and designed the Nomad Residence Permit, which has been quite successful: the number of applications are growing very fast. In fact, this month we have a record number of applications coming in.
The positive thing about it is the quality of the applicants that we are getting. Initially, we thought that we would have 25- to 35-year-olds who would be finishing their studies, who want to explore new countries, and would come to Malta to stay a few months here, then perhaps go to Portugal, perhaps go to Spain, and then come back, traveling around. The reality is interesting and a bit different than we thought. The average age is 37. We have 1/3 of these applicants who come with families. It’s not just the young adults who want to move around, party, etc.
Our intention was always to attract quality individuals, so although it might not be that high, at least they would have to earn €32,400 annually. The reality is that the average wage of these nomads is €84,000 euros, which is quite substantial. The absolute majority is all well-educated and has a degree: masters, PhDs. The majority are coming from the U.S., the UK, China and India. But even when we categorize these people, 27% are coming from other countries and represent people from all nationalities: from Nigeria, Ghana, or Australia, from all over the world. This is a quite interesting phenomenon. Another positive thing is that we notice that these people spend money while they are here. From the study we’ve made from applicants, 71% of those applicants applied to renew their permit. That means that they are enjoying it here in Malta, so they want to stay. They are spending around €2,800 euros per month in Malta. If you calculate that with over 500 applicants, it’s injecting around €16 million into the local economy. Considering the size of Malta, it is quite a substantial amount.
These figures are growing. It’s an interesting market. If you would ask what is attracting these people, I would possibly say that the application process is quite straightforward. We promise to give them a reply within 30 days, and we are sticking to it. Sometimes it’s taking us around 15 days to give them a reply. Numbers now are growing because of that. It’s the way we manage to build a relationship with these people. 90% apply directly. We’ve managed to foster a personal relationship with these individuals.
BF: In October, Residency Malta and Malta Enterprise jointly launched the Malta Start-up Program. Can you tell us about this new initiative? What kind of support systems and business environments await entrepreneurs looking to make Malta their base?
Charles Mizzi: This startup program was launched in October. The startup ecosystem already existed. We attract around 20 new startups a month in Malta. What we have done with the program is facilitate the process for third country nationals, because our target audience is third country nationals; we are facilitating the process for them to move here together with their families. We know that the first three years is the most difficult period for startups. The least thing that these people want is to worry about the renewal of the residence permit. What we have done is to create a structure, a program, which gives them peace of mind. They apply, and we conduct due diligence on these individuals. If they make it and their business proposal is thought to be viable, we will give them a three-year permit. That is one thing that they can put out of their mind.
Then, if the business goes well and is successful, they can apply for renewal, and we can renew for a further five years. There would be other permanent or long-term residency options because our intention is to attract new ideas, new investments, and new businesses to Malta. The intention is to make it comfortable enough for them to keep their investment in Malta.
From Malta Enterprise’s side, their focus is more on the business aspect. They provide support, even financial support and schemes which are available to help these businesses grow. We joined forces: we will take care of the residency aspect, the residency permit side, and Malta Enterprise will use their expertise on the business side to help these people to grow. There again, we’re not after big numbers; we’re after quality. We want quality startups, quality proposals, to come to Malta. We don’t refuse any other viable proposal: there are other schemes that one can tap into, but the startup is more targeted for the innovative businesses.
BF: Before the pandemic, real estate in Malta was booming, with a price increase of 75% between 2012 and 2019. While things were stalled during the pandemic, high growth rates are resuming. What kind of interest and trends are we seeing in Malta’s real estate sector, and why is it a solid investment for those seeking residency in the country?
Charles Mizzi: There has been a constant growth in the real estate market. It’s one of the safest investments that one can make in Malta. That’s why it’s interesting for these people, even for us Maltese. Most probably, six out of ten you meet in the streets would have more than one property. They opt for real estate to make their investment because there is a huge rental market (because of the high influx of foreign workers that are coming to Malta and are in Malta). Suffice to say is that the population in Malta has grown by a fifth: from 100,000, we are now over 500,000. That created a market and that’s what keeps the real estate going. Obviously, the real estate market has an effect on a number of other markets: if you buy land, you need to build it, you need to furnish it. Everything is connected. The residency program helps because it creates market; these individuals will need places to stay, to live, some to purchase, some to lease. It helps to generate more and more interest in the real estate sector and creates more opportunities.
BF: What is Residency Malta doing to attract U.S. investors to Malta, and what kind of specific opportunities could these investors take advantage of in the market?
Charles Mizzi: When it comes to the nomad, the interest is there. I believe around 14% of the market comes from the U.S. There are different reasons why they come to Malta: possibly because of the climate, the infrastructure, the safety of the country, the opportunities that are here, our healthcare system (which is probably much cheaper).
When it comes to Residency by Investment, we need to work more on it. In fact, this year, we are looking at starting to visit the U.S. to try to explore what opportunities there are. From our side, we need to put in more investment and more effort. When it comes to Residency by Investment, the U.S. market is still a new market for us. Up to a few years ago, there wasn’t that much appetite for residency programs. But over the last year, year and a half, we have been hearing that more and more U.S. nationals are looking for such options.
BF: You started out in the banking sector before moving into marketing and business development with the European Council, and then the Individual Investor Program Agency. You’ve had a fantastic career and have led Malta’s CBI program to success. What are your current top three priorities as CEO of Residency Malta Agency, and what kind of future do you see for CBI investment programs in the country?
Charles Mizzi: There are many targets, especially for our program. We believe that with the changes we have implemented in the agency, the importance of the agency for the country will increase. With the changes we’ve made to the program and the number of applications that we are receiving, the contribution to the local economy will be growing. That will raise the importance of the agency to the country.
We also have plans to diversify our product portfolio. We want to reach new markets; we want to launch new programs. Our intention is to make the agency even more relevant. This also helps to give opportunities to our employees. I cannot achieve success without a good team. We invest a lot in our team, and, whatever we do, we keep our employees and our staff in mind. We invest a lot in the people that we have here, and creating these opportunities will obviously help to keep retaining the employees, because, without them, we cannot achieve anything.
BF: What would be your final message to the readers of USA Today?
Charles Mizzi: Wherever we go and whenever we have the opportunity to speak about our program, we always say that we are after quality. Although the numbers are coming, we’re not after high volume, we’re after quality. We’re very proud to say that we have very strong due diligence processes to help us identify the best people, so those who make it to our program have a certification that they are of good reputation. Wherever we go we always tell people to come to Malta and see for themselves what Malta has to offer. It’s easy for us to go there and boast about our country because everyone obviously is proud of his country. But I would urge these people to seriously consider Malta and, most of all, come see for themselves what Malta has to offer. That’s the only way one can really decide based on what they are seeing and feeling.
Malta has a lot of advantages. The main things that people take into consideration when deciding to make the move revolve around education, healthcare and even language. Language is an important factor. The absolute majority of Maltese speak English; it’s easy to communicate. We’ve had stories where people moved from one country to another and when they needed to go to a hospital they couldn’t communicate with the people there. In Malta that’s not an issue. All these characteristics give comfort and peace of mind when moving to another country.