Immigrant investor programs

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Immigrant investor programs are programs designed to attract foreign capital and businesspeople by providing the right of residence and citizenship in return. These are also known as citizenship by investment, golden visa, or golden passport programs.[1][2][3]

Immigrant investor programs usually have multiple criteria that must be fulfilled for the investment to qualify, often pertaining to job creation, purchasing of real estate, non-refundable contributions or specific targeted industries.[4] Most of these programs are structured to ensure that the investment contributes to the welfare, advancement and economic development of the country in which they wish to reside or belong to. It is more often more about making an economic contribution than just an investment.[5]


A golden visa is a permanent residency visa issued to individuals who invest, often through the purchase of property, a certain sum of money into the issuing country.

The roots of golden visas have been traced back to the 1980s when tax havens in the Pacific and Caribbean began "cash-for-passport" programs that facilitated visa-free travel and provided tax advantages.[6] For example, in 1984, St Kitts and Nevis began its program which offered not only permanent residency but citizenship to foreign nationals.[7]

The issuing of golden visas expanded dramatically during the 21st century with around 25% of all countries issuing such visas as of 2015.[8] Statistics on the issuing of golden visas is scarce but the IMF estimated in 2015 that the vast majority of golden visas are issued to Chinese nationals.[8]

Requirements and issuing[edit]

Golden visas require investments of anywhere from $100,000 in Dominica up to £2 million in the U.K. The most common method for obtaining a golden visa is through the purchase of real estate with a minimum value.[9] Golden visas have been especially popular with Chinese nationals, over 100,000 of whom acquired them during the period from 2007 to 2016.[10]

Portugal's golden visa was introduced during the Great Recession to help attract investment into the country's housing market. By 2016 the country had issued 2,788 golden visas of which 80% had gone to Chinese nationals.[11]

Some countries such as Malta and Cyprus also offer citizenship ("so-called golden passports") to individuals if they invest a certain sum.[12]


The issuing of so-called "golden visas" has sparked controversy in several countries. A lack of demonstrable economic benefits and security concerns have been among the most common criticisms of golden visas. In 2014 the Canadian government suspended their golden visa program. But because of the Canada–Québec Accord relating to Immigration and Temporary Admission of Aliens that allows Quebec to maintain its own immigration policy, Quebec maintains its own golden visa program.[13] The golden visas have been criticized by members of the European Parliament for disfavoring the concept of citizenship[14] and in 2014 the European Parliament approved a non-binding resolution that an EU passport should not have a "price tag."[15]

According to a study, the EU has won approximately €25 billion over the last 10 years through foreign direct investment programs.[16]

By country[edit]

According to Corpocrat Magazine in 2016, the countries with the top-ranked immigrant investor programs in the world were Malta, Cyprus, Portugal, Austria, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Spain, Latvia, Monaco, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Grenada, Abkhazia, Saint Lucia, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, UAE and Dominica.[17] However, golden visas represent only a small proportion of new passports. In 2016, 994,800 citizenship applicants were granted across the EU, according to Eurostat, with just 0.1 percent of applications made under investment schemes.[18]

Dominica implemented its program in 1993 to provide investors the opportunity to gain Dominican citizenship via a contribution to its Economic Diversification Fund or the purchase of an alternatively approved project along with a fee.[19]

The Malta Individual Investor Programme,[20] which Henley & Partners was contracted in 2014 by the Government of Malta to design and implement, is similarly capped at 1,800 applicants. Applicants are subject to a thorough due diligence process which guarantees that only reputable applicants acquire Maltese citizenship. Moreover, applications from countries where international sanctions apply may not be accepted. Applications from a particular country can also be excluded on the basis of a Government policy decision.[20] The minimum investment for this program is $870,000 with a non-refundable contribution of $700,000.[4]

The Quebec Immigrant Investor Program is a Canadian program which allows investors who intend to settle in the province of Quebec to invest money in Canada. The Quebec government said it would accept a maximum of 1,750 applications to the Immigrant Investor Program during the period of 5 to 20 January 2015. Applicants with an intermediate-advanced aptitude in French are not subject to the cap and may apply at any time. The program has been associated with the lack of housing affordability in Vancouver.[21]

The United States EB-5 visa program requires overseas applicants to invest a minimum of anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million, depending on the location of the project, and requires at least 10 jobs to be either created or preserved.[22] When these criteria are met, the applicant and their family become eligible for a green card. There is an annual cap of 10,000 applications under the EB-5 program.[citation needed] The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has offered its EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program since 1990. It is designed to encourage foreign investment in infrastructure projects in the U.S., particularly in Targeted Employment Areas (TEA), high unemployment areas. The funds are channeled through agencies called regional centers, now designated only by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The funding opportunities allow the investor to make a sound financial investment and obtain a U.S. “Green Card.”[23] One of the more successful examples of the program is the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's program through the Delaware Valley Regional Center to raise over $200 million for completion of a major project on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.[24]

A large majority of users of such programs are wealthy Chinese seeking legal security and a better quality of life outside of their home country. More than three-quarters of the applicants to Canada's (since canceled) immigrant investor program were Chinese.[25] Money laundering scandals involving banks in Malta and Latvia have made citizenship schemes more contentious by drawing attention to the lack of controls on Russian funds entering EU countries.[26]

The UK grants investor visas. As per the official statistics with the British Home Office, as many as 255 Golden Visas were granted in the first half of 2019 alone. As of March 2020, an individual can apply for the UK Tier 1 (Investor) visa if they wish to invest an amount of £2 million or more in the UK. The applicant must be from outside Switzerland and the European Economic Area to apply for such a visa, along with various other eligibility requirements. With this class of visa, a person can go to the UK for a maximum duration of 3 years and 4 months, with the ability to apply for an extension of 2 more years. The visa holder can apply to settle after 5 years or less; the greater the investment, the shorter the waiting period.[27]

A recently emerged programme, Turkish Citizenship by Investment (TCBI) also attracts many investors. Related legislation of Turkey has been amended on 9th September 2018, therefore reducing the requested amounts for Turkish Citizenship application. The Republic of Turkey, currently the 19th biggest economy in the world with its population of almost 85 million, mainly presents 2 options to investors: purchasing real estate for at least $250,000 USD on condition to not sell for 3 years or depositing $500,000 USD to any active bank in Turkey (including foreign banks so long as these are active in Turkey) on condition of not withdrawing such money for a period of 3 years. Upon investing as above and submitting citizenship application duly, a Turkish passport is granted typically within 6 months.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Abrahamian, Atossa Araxia. The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen. Columbia Global Reports. pp. 70–93. ISBN 978-0-9909763-6-3.
  2. ^ Clenfield, Jason. "The Passport King". Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  3. ^ "The Man Who Helps Countries Turn Investments into Passports for the Rich". Skift. 12 March 2015. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  4. ^ a b Kalin, Christian H. (2015). Global Residence and Citizenship Handbook. Ideos Publications. ISBN 978-0992781859.
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  6. ^ Shachar et al. 2017, p. 794.
  7. ^ Houlder, Vanessa (29 June 2016). "Citizenship is for sale to the wealthy, Malta is among states to offer second passports, easing access to the wider EU". Financial Times.
  8. ^ a b IMF Working Paper, WP/15/93, Too Much of a Good Thing?: Prudent Management of Inflows under Economic Citizenship Programs, by Xin Xu, Ahmed El-Ashram and Judith Gold,
  9. ^ Rodriguez, Cecilia (29 September 2013). "Want To Live in Europe? "Buy" A Residency Permit". Forbes. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  10. ^ CBS/AP (12 May 2017). "Chinese investors spent $24B on "golden visas" in U.S. and elsewhere". CBS News.
  11. ^ Almeida, Henrique (20 January 2016). "Chinese Stuck in Portugal's Visa Limbo". Bloomberg.
  12. ^ Gittleson, Kim (4 June 2014). "Where is the cheapest place to buy citizenship?". BBC News.
  13. ^ Yan, Sophia (25 March 2014). "Canada kills investor visa popular with Chinese". CNN.
  14. ^ "Buying their way in". The Economist. 22 November 2014.
  15. ^ Viña, Gonzalo (8 April 2016). "Malta's golden passport scheme draws fresh criticism". Financial Times.
  16. ^ "Golden visa' schemes deserve tougher scrutiny". Financial Times. 24 January 2019.
  17. ^ "25+ Great Investor Visas in the World – Corpocrat Magazine". Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  18. ^ "EU prepares crackdown on 'citizenships for sale'". Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  19. ^ "Citizenship | Government of St. Kitts & Nevis – Citizenship By Investment Program". Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  20. ^ a b "Individual Investor Programme – Malta". Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  21. ^ Wood, Graeme. "Foreign sales peak in Richmond as Quebec ramps up investor immigrant program". Richmond News. Retrieved 16 October 2020.
  22. ^ "EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program". Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  23. ^ Riley, Kim (26 July 2019). "New federal rulemaking makes major changes to EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program". Transportation Today. Washington DC: Macallan Communications.
  24. ^ Welitzkin, Paul (2 December 2014). "Chinese investors helping build major US road link". China Daily (USA). New York NY. New Media.
  25. ^ Cole, Michael. "Canada Slams Door on 45K Chinese Millionaires With End of Visa Program". Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  26. ^ "Malta bank was set up with 'criminal proceeds', say prosecutors". Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  27. ^ "Investor visa (Tier 1)". GOV.UK. 7 February 2014. Retrieved 9 April 2020.