Malta's government has rebuffed European lawmakers' call to halt a plan to sell Maltese passports to foreigners, which would automatically grant access to the European Union.

The European Parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution urging Malta to stop the program, saying it "undermines the very concept of European citizenship".

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told a news conference that Europe's position has been noted but that the plan will continue.

Applications have already started to be received, but he declined to say how many since the program took effect earlier this week.

The program requires investments of 1.15 million euros ($1.57 million) but lacks a residency requirement. Muscat has said it will be capped at 1,800 passports.