The schemes are all largely similar in their requirements, with wealthy foreigners offered fast-track residency or citizenship in exchange for buying real estate or making other investments in the economy.
Such schemes are widely offered globally. In the US, for example, a similar scheme grants up to 10,000 visas to foreigners who create 10 full-time jobs and invest $1 million.
Such residency for investment schemes have been adopted as a quick and easy way to generate much needed revenue by Southern European nations hit by the financial crisis. “When the crisis hit, European countries that didn’t already have a visa plan started to take this more seriously,” says Eric Major, CEO of Henley and Partners. “Governments are now structuring their immigration policy to attract the investors that they want.”
The shift in immigration policy is not without its critics, however. In Europe, several economists have raised questions as to whether the schemes are as economically beneficial as they are made out to be, while analysts have warned that policymakers are diminishing the value of citizenship by rolling out the red carpet to the world’s wealthiest individuals. Additionally, investor visa schemes give excessive priority to the rich over other migrants, many of whom have fled their war-torn homelands and have lawfully lived in and contributed to their adopted countries.
Nevertheless despite the criticism, European nations are going all out to attract millionaire investors, as demand for immigrant investor schemes is high, with Canada and some European countries having to alter their schemes due to an excessive number of applications.
With unemployment in southern European countries at record levels, and the stop-start nature of the eurozone economic recovery, the so-called “golden visas” provide a relatively easy and lucrative way out.
In Cyprus, full citizenship is immediately given to individuals investing roughly 2.5 million euros, which not only gives them the right to live and work anywhere in the EU, but also provides them visa-free access to the US and most other Western countries. A similar scheme is offered by Malta for a 1.2 million euros combined investment in government bonds and real estate, though individuals must hold Maltese residency for one year before they get citizenship.
A considerably cheaper option is available in Greece, where wealthy investors can obtain long-term residency upon purchasing real estate worth about €250,000, which is the average price of a centrally located apartment in Athens.
These schemes have become especially popular with China’s new rich looking to settle abroad. In Portugal for instance, government statistics indicate that about 80 per cent of the 1,800 golden visas they issued went to Chinese investors, who have invested over $1 billion in the country’s economy.
One of the Portuguese scheme’s main attractions is that its requirements are lower than average, with a property investment requirement of just $560,000, and investors being required to reside in the country for just one week during the first year, during which they are allowed visa-free access to most of Europe.
“In Portugal, you can gain residency relatively easily and then travel throughout Europe,” says Kamal Rahman of Mishcon de Reya. “If you’re looking to get another passport, these programs make a lot of sense.”