Immigrant investor programs
Immigrant investor programs are programs that allow individuals to obtain residence or citizenship of a country in return for making qualifying investments.
Broadly, the programs offer either citizenship by investment ("golden passport" or "cash-for-passports"), residence by investment ("golden visa") or a hybrid with immediate residence followed by accelerated citizenship.
Program applicants must usually fulfill multiple qualification criteria. Investment can take a variety of forms including a contribution to government funds; purchase of qualifying real estate (e.g. specific government-sanctioned projects); investment in a qualifying business (e.g. a specific industry); or creation of a set number of jobs.
A growing number of countries offer immigrant investor programs, with approximately one quarter of all countries issuing such visas as of 2015. There are few statistics on the number of people pursuing these programs in aggregate.
Citizenship by investment programs
Citizenship by investment programs enable the applicant to rapidly obtain citizenship with no required residence period, or only a short nominal period measured in days or weeks. These are often known as "golden passports" or "cash-for-passport" programs, offering visa-free travel and possible tax advantages.
Approximately a dozen countries have citizenship by investment programs. These include five countries in the Caribbean (Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Lucia), as well as Cambodia, Egypt, Jordan, Malta, Montenegro (planned to be closed), North Macedonia and Vanuatu.
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. Dominica requires an investment of $100,000 in Dominica.
The Malta Individual Investor Programme, which Henley & Partners was contracted in 2014 by the Government of Malta to design and implement, is similarly capped at 1,800 applicants. The minimum investment for this program is $870,000 with a non-refundable contribution of $700,000.
St Kitts and Nevis
Turkey offers a relatively new program known as Turkish Citizenship by Investment (TCBI). Investors are required to purchase real estate worth at least US$250,000 and hold it for 3 years OR deposit US$500,000 in bank in Turkey for at least 3 years. Upon investing as above and submitting citizenship application duly, a Turkish passport is granted typically within 6 months.
Residence by investment programs
Residence by investment programs allow an applicant to obtain a permanent residency visa for a country by making an investment such as purchase of property or investment in a business. These programs are often known as "golden visas". The programs (on their own) do not allow the applicant to obtain citizenship (see "Citizenship by investment" and "Hybrid programs" below). However, the person may eventually be able to apply for citizenship using standard naturalization procedures after residing in the country for a required amount of time.
Numerous countries offer these programs including Abkhazia, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Latvia, Monaco, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Canada historically had a national-level golden visa program, but this was suspended in 2014.
However, Quebec maintains its own program - the Quebec Immigrant Investor Program - since the province has the right to set its own immigration policy due to the Canada–Québec Accord relating to Immigration and Temporary Admission of Aliens. The number of applicants is subject to a cap. However, applicants with an intermediate-advanced aptitude in French are not subject to the cap. The program has been associated with the lack of housing affordability in Vancouver.
Portugal introduced a golden visa 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 been issued to Chinese nationals.
The UK has a program known as a Tier 1 (Investor) visa. Applicants must invest £2 million or more in the UK and meet other eligibility criteria. Visa holders can reside in the UK for a maximum 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.
According to the Home Office, 255 visas of this type were granted in the first half of 2019.
EB-5 Visa (green card)
The EB-5 visa program requires applicants to invest between $900,000 and $1.8 million, depending on the location of the project, and requires at least 10 jobs to be either created or preserved. There is an annual cap of 10,000 applications under the EB-5 program. The program is designed to encourage foreign investment in infrastructure projects, particularly in Targeted Employment Areas (TEA) with high unemployment. Funds are channeled through businesses known as regional centers, now designated only by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. An example of a project is a $200 million development by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
The initial visa term varies from three months to five years depending on the U.S. reciprocity schedule with the applicant's country of citizenship.
The E-2 visa investor must commit to investing a substantial amount (generally $100,000) and create American jobs (usually 2+). Most investments under $200,000 will require the investor to work 40+ hours a week in the business at least for the first 12 to 18 months.
Hybrid residence-citizenship programs
Hybrid residence-citizenship programs allow applicants to first obtain residence and then, after an accelerated residence period (as short as 2 years), obtain citizenship.
The sale of passports and "golden visas" has sparked controversy in several countries. Some of the criticisms include doubts about the economic benefits, as well as security concerns.
Golden visas have been criticized by members of the European Parliament for disfavouring the concept of citizenship and in 2014 the European Parliament approved a non-binding resolution that an EU passport should not have a "price tag."[why?]
Many users of such programs are wealthy Chinese and Russian citizens seeking legal security and a better quality of life outside of their home country. Golden visas have been especially popular with Chinese nationals, over 100,000 of whom acquired them during the period from 2007 to 2016. The IMF estimated in 2015 that the vast majority of golden visas are issued to Chinese nationals. More than three-quarters of the applicants to Canada's former immigrant investor program were Chinese.
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.
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