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Immigrant investor programs are programs designed to attract foreign capital and business people by providing the right of residence and citizenship in return. These are also known as citizenship-by-investment programs or golden visa. While several countries currently offer investors citizenship or residence in return for an economic investment, the concept is relatively new and was only brought to the focus around 2006.[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] The U.S. 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.[6] 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.



The Commonwealth of Dominica has been operating one such program since 1993[7], and enables investors to gain Dominican citizenship through either a contribution to Dominica's Economic Diversification Fund or the purchase of an approved project along with a fee.

The Malta Individual Investor Programme,[8] 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.[8] The minimum investment for this program is $870,000 with a non-refundable contribution of $700,000.[4]

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.[9] 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. [10]

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. [11] The Quebec government said it would accept a maximum of 1,750 applications to the Immigrant Investor Program during the period of January 5 to 20, 2015. Applicants with an intermediate-advanced aptitude in French are not subject to the cap and may apply at any time.[12][13][14] The program has been associated with the lack of housing affordability in Vancouver.[15]

The US 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 US, particularly in Targeted Employment Areas (TEA), high unemployment areas. The funds are channeled through agencies called regional centers, now designated only by the US Department of Homeland Security. The funding opportunities allow the investor to make a sound financial investment and obtain a US “Green Card.”[16] One of the more successful examples of the program is 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.[17]

The countries with the top ranked[by whom?] immigrant investor programs in the world are 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 and Dominica.[18][19]

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.[20]

Golden visaEdit

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.[21] For example, in 1984, St Kitts and Nevis began its program which offered not only permanent residency but citizenship to foreign nations.[22]

The issuing of golden visas expanded dramatically during the 21st century with around 25% of all countries issuing such visas as of 2015.[23] 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.[24]

Requirements and issuingEdit

Golden visas require investments of anywhere from $100,000[25] in Dominica up to £2,000,000 in the U.K.[26] The most common method for obtaining a golden visa is through the purchase of real estate with a minimum value.[27] Golden visas have been especially popular with Chinese nationals, over 100,000 of whom acquired them during the period from 2007 to 2016.[28]

Portugal's golden visa was introduced during the Great Recession in order 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.[29]

Some countries such as Malta and Cyprus also offer citizenship ("so-called golden passports") to individuals if they invest a certain sum.[30]


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.[31] The golden visas have been criticized by members of the European Parliament for disfavoring the concept of citizenship[32] and in 2014 the European Parliament approved a non-binding resolution that an EU passport should not have a "price tag."[33] According to a study, the EU has won approximately €25bn over the last 10 years through foreign direct investment programs.[34]

See alsoEdit


  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". Retrieved 2016-07-20.
  3. ^ "The Man Who Helps Countries Turn Investments Into Passports for the Rich". Skift. 2015-03-12. Retrieved 2016-07-20.
  4. ^ a b Kalin, Christian H. (2015). Global Residence and Citizenship Handbook. Ideos Publications. ISBN 978-0992781859.
  5. ^ "How to get a second passport: "Citizenship by investment" is booming -". 2016-06-30. Retrieved 2016-07-20.
  6. ^ "EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program". Retrieved 2016-07-20.
  7. ^ "Citizenship | Government of St. Kitts & Nevis - Citizenship By Investment Program". Retrieved 2018-03-13.
  8. ^ a b "Individual Investor Programme - Malta". Retrieved 2016-07-20.
  9. ^ Cole, Michael. "Canada Slams Door on 45K Chinese Millionaires With End of Visa Program". Retrieved 2016-07-20.
  10. ^ "Malta bank was set up with 'criminal proceeds', say prosecutors". Retrieved 2018-08-15.
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Quebec Business Immigration". Canadian Citizenship & Immigration Resource Center. Retrieved 2016-07-20.
  13. ^ "Immigrant Investor Visa Canada & Quebec - Investor Permanent Residency Visa Canada 2016". Retrieved 2016-07-20.
  14. ^ "Quebec Immigrant Investor Program". Retrieved 2016-07-20.
  15. ^
  16. ^ Riley, Kim (26 July 2019). "New federal rulemaking makes major changes to EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program". Transportation Today. Washington DC: Macallan Communications.
  17. ^ Welitzkin, Paul (2 December 2014). "Chinese investors helping build major US road link". China Daily (USA). New York NY. New Media.
  18. ^ "25+ Great Investor Visas in the World – Corpocrat Magazine". Retrieved 2016-07-20.
  19. ^ Henley & Partners. Global Residence and Citizenship Programs 2016. Ideos Publications. ISBN 978-0992781880.
  20. ^ "EU prepares crackdown on 'citizenships for sale'". Retrieved 2018-08-15.
  21. ^ Shachar et al. 2017, p. 794.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ 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
  24. ^ 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
  25. ^ "Dominica Citizenship by Investment - Passport Now $100,000".
  26. ^ "UK Tier 1 Investor Visa - UK Residency and Citizenship by Investment".
  27. ^ Rodriguez, Cecilia (29 September 2013). "Want To Live In Europe? "Buy" A Residency Permit". Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  28. ^ CBS/AP (12 May 2017). "Chinese investors spent $24B on "golden visas" in U.S. and elsewhere". CBS News.
  29. ^ Almeida, Henrique (20 January 2016). "Chinese Stuck in Portugal's Visa Limbo". Bloomberg.
  30. ^ Gittleson, Kim (4 June 2014). "Where is the cheapest place to buy citizenship?". BBC News.
  31. ^ Yan, Sophia (25 March 2014). "Canada kills investor visa popular with Chinese". CNN Money.
  32. ^ "Buying their way in". The Economist. 22 November 2014.
  33. ^ Viña, Gonzalo (8 April 2016). "Malta's golden passport scheme draws fresh criticism". Financial Times.
  34. ^ "Golden visa' schemes deserve tougher scrutiny". Financial Times. 24 January 2019.