About the show

Each episode on the investment Immigration Podcast by Uglobal.com, host Salman Siddiqui sits down with leading professionals, attorneys, thought leaders and government officials to discuss the latest developments impacting citizenship and residency by investment. Whether you´re someone who takes part in cross border transactions, works in the investment immigration community or are personally interested in participating in citizenship or residency investment, tune each week to the Investment Immigration podcast to stay up to date on what´s happening in the investment immigration world.

About the host

Salman Siddiqui is the host of Uglobal’s Investment Immigration Podcast series. Siddiqui is a versatile storyteller and embodies the spirit of a true global citizen. His own immigration journey took him to many places around the world, including the UK, Cyprus, Turkey, and Qatar. He has written dozens of in-depth articles and features on global investment immigration programs for the Uglobal Immigration Magazine and website. He is a journalist and creative content editor by training. He earned his master’s in arts degree from SOAS, University of London. He is currently based in Berlin, Germany.

Salman Siddiqui

Episode Transcript

Alessia: We experienced a big change. There's been not any announcement saying that there will be particular changes in immigration law. And in any case, I don't think that even if the government decides to amend immigration law, those amendments will have impact on investors and people will want to apply for an elective residence visa. Because most of the time, especially with governments or the type that we are now having in Italy, the target of the intervention is trying to stop irregular immigration. So, the laws or the changes that are implemented are more targeted to that kind of immigration. So, I don't think there will be any impact on investors.

Salman: Welcome to the "Investment Immigration Podcast" by uglobal.com with weekly in depth interviews with the world's leading investment immigration professionals.

Hello, everyone. Today, we are gonna focus on Italy's investment immigration program. And today, I'm very lucky to have somebody with us who is an expert on the program on the residency by investment program there. She is gonna explain to us what's happening in Italy, how investors should be looking at the country at this moment in time. It's gonna be a very interesting conversation. And I want to now introduce my guest, Alessia. How are you? And please tell our listeners about yourself, about your law firm. And you are based in Milan right now, isn't it?

Alessia: Yes. Thank you very much. Hello, everybody. My name is Alessia Ajelli, and I am indeed based in Milan. I'm a lawyer working in Italy for about 12 years for LCA Studio Legale, which is a full service law firm. We have our main office in Milan, and an office in Genoa and Treviso, and also a presence in Dubai. Among the many practices that our firm develops, we have a corporate immigration team and citizenship team. And I'm leading this team. So, I've been working on immigration and citizenship cases for almost 12 years now.

Salman: Wow, that's a really long time. And may I ask how did you end up in this investment immigration space? You could have done anything else, why did you end up in this sector?

Alessia: Well, basically, I started working in the firm as a corporate lawyer. So, I was doing a lot of M&A transactions and advising companies and also foreign investors at the beginning of my career who wanted to buy properties or buy companies in Italy or investing. So, since I was also interested in the immigration side of things, I tried to combine both things. And with the investor visa program that has been launched in Italy, it is finally possible to do that. So, I can advise both from a corporate side people who want to invest in the Italian market because they are interested in Italian companies, but at the same time, want to physically move to Italy or be able to travel more freely to our country. So, it's a perfect combination in that sense.

Salman: I see. That's an interesting journey you've had. Okay. Now, let's move to what's happening in Italy's investment immigration space. And I want to start out with the big question about the status of Italy's digital nomad visa. So, I know it was approved in March but everybody wants to know, has it become operative yet?

Alessia: No. Unfortunately, not yet. As you said, it was approved in March of this year and already six months passed and we haven't yet been able to see the implementation decree. Because what happens in Italy is that you approve the law that allows the introduction of a new visa category, but then you have to wait for the decree by the Italian government to implement from a practical point of view, the requirements, the process. So, we know that we are gonna have a digital nomad visa that has been approved, but we don't know yet how it will work. So, we don't know yet. We know a little bit of the requirements, the general requirements, but we don't know how those requirements will be checked by the authorities, what kind of documentation applicants will need to provide to get the visa. What I can do is to give a general idea of the process.

Salman: Yeah, sure.

Alessia: Well, first of all, it's not a quota mechanism process. And that means that you don't have to wait as in other cases for a decree issued by the Italian government stating the number of quotas that are available to apply for these kinds of visas and residence permit. It's a free number so there is no limitation in that sense. And the other important thing is that it's a process almost entirely carried out outside Italy. So, Italian consulates and embassies will be the ones in charge of processing these applications. So, they will be the entities that are taking the decision on granting or not the visa and consequently the residence permit for Italy. And it's quite interesting because we have another example of this kind of process with the elective residence visa, which you may be familiar with.

Salman: Right.

Alessia: As the elective residence visa is decided by consulates and embassies, also the digital nomad visa, the decision will be taken by the consular authority.

Salman: That's an important point because a lot of people are scared of bureaucratic hurdles. They don't want to deal with bureaucracy, and especially the digital nomad community is very averse to all sorts of bureaucracy. And if you want to attract that kind of market, it has to be a super smooth process.

Alessia: Yes, indeed, and we hope it will be. The thing is since the consular authority is involved primarily in the process, it's super important, and it will be super important to check with the local consular authority in the country in which the applicant is going to lodge the application, what are the requirements and how those requirements will be implemented by the consulate or the embassy. Because it's a great thing that the process will be carried out in the same country where the applicant is living at the moment of the application, but at the same time, this leads to the possibility, as in other cases has happened that consulates and embassies will set further requirements or will ask further documents or the documents will be slightly different from one consulate to the other. So, it's important to check in advance and to have the smoothest process possible.

Salman: Well, hopefully it will be a smooth process and people will look at Italy, especially the digital nomad community as a one great option. Why did it take so long for it to be considered? The digital nomad program in many countries we see has been around for some time. And even if we say okay, the pandemic pushed certain countries to now offer this program, but now we are almost in the fourth year of the pandemic. So, why did it take Italy so long to realize the potential of this program, you think?

Alessia: Well, I think it's like a traditional feature of Italy being slow in doing things. So, for example, the investor visa program arrived in late 2017, while other countries had already implemented it. Same happens with the digital nomad visa. Everybody knows the potential of this visa. So, many people in the government or the governments that succeeded during the time had tried to introduce this visa, but it took a while because we are Italian, so we take things slowly, sometimes. But in the end, we get to the result and we get to the goal. So, now the visa it's something certain, we just need to understand how it will work from a practical point of view. So, I hope that soon we'll get to the point.

Salman: I understand. Okay, now let's move to another topic. Let's talk about the residency options which are already available for investors and high net worth individuals. So, how many options are there in Italy for investors and high net worth individuals? And do any of them lead to permanent residency?

Alessia: Yes. Well, we have basically two main options for investors or someone who wants to move to Italy and not work because that is the main thing. From one side, we have the investor visa program. And from the other side, we have the elective residence visa, which have some features in common but mainly differ on one thing. With investor visa, the applicant wants to actually make an investment in Italy. So, for example, buying shares of a company in Italy, or invest in government bonds or philanthropic projects. And from the other side, with the elective residence visa, the person must already have a steady income which should be a passive income and want to move to Italy to live on that income and not work. So, the main difference is from one side we have the investment and the possibility to work while in Italy, and from the other side, we have just the need to move to Italy but not the right to work.

So, these are two main options that a foreign national can choose from. And with the investor visa, we have different categories of investment and different targets of investment which could be interesting for someone wanting to make like an economic investment in the Italian market. So, it could be as I said companies, innovative startups, listed or not listed company in the stock market, it could be government bonds or it could be philanthropic projects. The thing is, you have just to have one goal, one target, meet the minimum threshold set by the law, and then you can get the visa and the residence permit. With both the investor visa and the elective residence visa, you are able to renew the residence permit as long as the conditions for the issuance are met. So, for example, with the investment you don't have to withdraw the investment even partially. So, once you have invested in a company, your investment should be kept on that particular company, but at the same time, you're able to renew the residence permit up to five years, which is the minimum amount of time that you need in order to apply for permanent residency.

Salman: Right.

Alessia: So, in both ways you can stay up to five years in Italy, and after the five years apply for the permanent residency and even for the citizenship if you stay up to 10 years. Because citizenship by residency in Italy requires a minimum legal stay of 10 years.

Salman: Between these two options that you mentioned, which is most popular? And at your law firm from where do you get your most business from out of these two options?

Alessia: I would say, as of now, the elective resident visa, because it's a visa that was introduced many years ago, so, people are more familiar with. And the largest amount of people that want to move to Italy does not want to work. If they want to retire or if they want to just spend time in the Italian territory, but not be actually engaging in work activities, so they prefer to elect the elective residents. And also because the investor visa has been introduced a few years ago, it was approved in 2017, but actually starting to work in 2018. So, we have four years and a half of activity but still we have seen an increase in the numbers of applications. So, first year was around 10, 11 applications, and now in 2022, in October, I think it's amounting to 65 or 70 applications. So, it's increasing by the time.

Also because the investor visa has one advantage, I would say, that the person holding the visa and the residence permit is not obliged to stay a certain amount of time in the country. So, he or she can stay one day and then go back to his own country or her own country or travel, but not lose the visa. On the other side, if you have an elective residence visa, as any other actually residence permit in Italy, you need to stay a certain amount of time in order not to lose it and be able to renew it.

Salman: Right. Very important points. And thank you so much for sharing all of that. Now, I want to ask about, you know, you mentioned these two options that are there on the table but something which I think is not there still. So, I've heard, and correct me if I'm wrong, that Italy still doesn't offer investors the option to buy real estate as a pathway to residency. Don't you think the country is missing out by not having something like that on the table?

Alessia: Yes, it's correct. We don't have this option. Investing in a real estate property does not necessarily give the right to get the visa and the residence permits as other countries such as, I don't know, Portugal, or other European countries. We are missing out in sense that, of course, we have applicants asking us if that type of investment would qualify them for a visa because they are not willing to invest in a company or innovative startup because it's too risky.

Salman: Yeah, I'm sure you get a lot of questions from clients about this. I'm sure.

Alessia: Yeah. It's a difficult question. And what I can say that of course, probably the introduction of this kind of investment is being considered. But also I understand that it has not been introduced yet because the Italian government wants an investment that can have an impact on Italian economy. And the most direct impact that you can have is investing in a company or investing in an innovative startup or in a philanthropic project or even in the government bonds. So, the more direct positive impact that Italian economy gets from the type of investment rather than a real estate. But I want to say that in the next future, these options will be introduced, because we know that other countries, European countries already have it. And so, maybe we don't want to miss out by not being able to offer this kind of option.

Salman: So, you're giving hope to investors that in the future there is a possibility, is that right?

Alessia: I think that is under consideration but I don't know. As I said before, the timing of taking decisions in Italy and then implementing it is very slow. So, it's not something for the near future, but maybe in the next one.

Salman: Okay, noted. Okay. Now, let's talk about what's happening in Italy right now. And for those of our listeners who don't know, recently, Italy has had a huge political change following its general elections. So, I want to ask you, what amendments do you expect in the country's immigration policies with this huge change? Is it gonna happen soon? Please tell us.

Alessia: Yes. We experienced a big change. As of now, we haven't heard, there's been not any announcement saying that there will be particular changes in immigration law. And in any case, I don't think that even if the government decides to amend immigration law, those amendments will necessarily have reflections on investors and people who want to apply for an elective residence visa. Because most of the time, especially with governments or the types that we are now having in Italy, the target of the intervention is trying to stop irregular immigration. So, most of the time, the laws or the changes that are implemented are more targeted to that kind of immigration. So, I don't think there will be any impact on investors in that sense. Well, we have to see. We are at the very beginning.

Salman: Right. So, for our listeners who don't know anything about the incoming Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, what exactly is the message being sent out to foreign investors? Is it a welcoming message? Are there indications that she wants to maybe reverse or drastically change the residency via investment policy? What is your sense saying about this?

Alessia: Yeah. No, I don't think so. I don't think that investment and immigration will be a target of any kind of action taken by this government. As I said, I think that if the government will decide to take any action regarding migration, it will not be something impacting investors and investment migration. So, from that point of view, I think it's pretty safe to say that the program will not be changed in a negative way. I hope there will be changes in a positive way but we still don't know because during these days, they are forming the new government. So, we don't know yet apart from Giorgia Meloni, who will be the other ministers, what will be the direction taken by the government? But from what we heard so far, I can say, pretty surely that investment migration won't be negatively impacted by the new government.

Salman: That's a very reassuring comment from you and I'm sure a lot of people who are listening to our show would be encouraged to hear that. And like you mentioned, the government in Italy is still in the process of being formed. I think, today only your president has formally called for talks for the government to be formed. So, maybe over the weekend, you'll have that. And hopefully, once we know who is going to run the finance side of thing, we will also know more about the investment immigration outlook. But you're right, it wouldn't make sense to reverse it because it would only hurt the economy and who doesn't want a strong economy?

Alessia: Exactly.

Salman: So, thank you for sharing that. And if there's anything else you want to say or advice the risk-averse, high net-worth individuals who are closely watching the events in Italy and they might not be sure about whether this is the right time to pursue an immigration path, a residency path in the country, what would you say to them?

Alessia: I would say not to be worried. You can count on very professional advisors, like our firm or the other firms in Italy, who can advise on how to launch the application in the most successful way. I know that Italy is a bureaucratic country. So, it seem a nightmare to navigate the process to get a visa. But in the end, you will be satisfied by getting a visa that will allow you to live and spend time in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. So, just try to have some patience because we're dealing with Italian authorities and Italian laws and the bureaucracy requires patience, but in the end, you will get to a very positive result.

Salman: Right. One of the reasons I also asked this question is because a lot of non-EU applicants, they're thinking about these sort of things. And they don't know, you know, how it'll affect them. But talking about the non-EU applicants, what are you seeing over the years? How have your numbers increased? And from which country, for example, at your law firm, are you seeing more applicants?

Alessia: Well, during the most recent years, as I told you before, the number of applications in general for the Italian investor visa program has increased. They doubled during the second year, and so on. Now, we are in the fourth year of the program and we are, I think in total, the government has received almost 70 applications. And most of the time applicants are from the U.S. But also now we are seeing especially because of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, a lot of applications bought by Russian citizens who want to leave the country and move to Europe. So, the number of Russian applicants, especially during 2022 has increased a lot for the investor visa program. But also for the elective residence visa, it has always been an option for U.S citizens who wanted to retire basically, and move to Italy. But now also for Russians and other Eastern European countries who want to have like a second option to where to move in case things go wrong in their own country.

Salman: That's interesting the impact of the ongoing war in Ukraine and how the number of applicants changed because of that. But I'm also, you know, interested in whether, do you face any hurdles in, for example, you know, processing applications for Russians? Like for example, I was talking to another guest from Bulgaria and he was telling me it's impossible to even open a bank account for them. Are you seeing similar hurdles because the EU has basically sanctioned all Russians because of the ongoing war?

Alessia: Yes. It's definitely harder for a Russian citizen to apply for any kind of visa. And for the investor visa program, it might be harder, because the controls and the background checks are very strict from the authorities. So, I don't want to say that it's like an easy process and everything goes smooth the entire time. We have succeeded sometimes, some other times, especially if the person wanted to apply didn't have already a bank account in Italy, or in another European country. Working with Russian banks, it made it impossible to get to the point of the visa approval. So, it depends a lot on the personal situation of the applicant, whether he was already linked with Europe having, for example, bank accounts in other European countries or not. And sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we don't, but definitely for the time being and in this particular historic moment, it's harder for Russian citizen to get any type of visa, I would say, for almost any country.

Salman: Right. That's so true. Now, also, please share some information on the trend you're seeing from the American applicants. You mentioned that their numbers have increased over the years. Is there a particular time where you saw huge jump, or, you know, post-pandemic is it decreasing or increasing? What are you seeing in terms of the American applicants? And who are they? Are they all rich businessman? Are they, you know, different kinds of profiles who just want to move away from the political environment that the Americans have seen, and they want to just now move with their families? What are you seeing there?

Alessia: We see a lot of different profiles. As I said, we have the businessman who want to expand his business, and open for example, his activity or activity to the Italian market, and therefore wants to invest in an Italian company. Some other times, we see people who have finished their career in the U.S and they are retired, and they just want to move to Italy to spend the last part of their lives enjoying the Italian environment. And some other times we have, for example, families who want to just leave the country and try to find a better environment for their children to grow up in. So, we have different profiles.

Surely, the number of applications has increased after the pandemic, because during the pandemic, the first year of the pandemic, especially, everything was stopped. It was pretty impossible to travel. Especially here in Italy, we had very strict limitations. So, it was almost impossible for someone who was not already residing in Italy, or having someone, a relative, for example, in Italy, it was impossible to even travel, not move but just travel to visit. So, now that this particularly difficult moment has passed or we don't have such restrictions and we are more likely to be able to find a migration solution for a U.S citizen or any other citizen around the world who wants to move to Italy.

Salman: Right. And do normally your clients, are they trying to seek residency just for themselves or is it for the entire families that they do? And how difficult is it for the entire family to get the residency? Does it add to the number of years that one's application becomes successful?

Alessia: Well, most of the time, I've seen families wanted to move together, especially spouses. So, if the husband wants to get an investor visa, most of the time his wife will join the application or vice versa.

Salman: Even from the U.S?

Alessia: Even from the U.S. Yes. But especially we've seen families, for example, from Russia and other Eastern European countries who want to move the entire family. So, we have like a main applicant, and then we have the spouse and then the children. The thing is, it's important to note that under the Italian law, a child can accompany the parent until he reaches the legal age, so until 18 years of age. So, most of the time, the hurdle is to find a solution for a child that is no more child because he's over 18 years of age to say he has to apply independently. But the requests that we receive most of the time are from entire families who want to find a solution for the entire family to move together to Italy.

Salman: Right. And then that makes your job harder, I suppose?

Alessia: Yeah. So, you have to be creative sometimes because it's not like a straightforward process. But I learned that with time that you can find a solution pretty much. Anytime there's a solution, you just have to be able to find it.

Salman: Okay, good to know. Good to know. So, we're now coming to the end of our show and I want to ask what you have learned during the pandemic as an immigration professional? And could you also share some tips about how you changed your business model at the law firm to adapt to the times? And what are your words of wisdom?

Alessia: Well, with the pandemic, we have learned to work remotely, first of all. In our case, an Italian law firm, usually, you had all the lawyers present sitting at their desk working together and we pretty quick had to learn how to work from home remotely. So, being able to use technological tools that would allow us to communicate with each other and with our clients. This was like a stronger impact on how things are done here in Italy. Maybe in the US or in other countries, the lawyers were more comfortable doing so. For Italy, it was like a big change. And with the pandemic, as I said, everything was stopped for a while, and then it recovered very slowly. So, we had to be patient, we had to try to engage or interest potential clients in different ways than we did before.

But now we have seen that the interest in moving to our country, to resuming traveling, it's the same level as before the pandemic, may be even a bit more because people want to have like second a option not to be stuck in their country and other pandemic comes in a short time. So, we've seen like things going better and better. And I hope that we're continuing to be like this. And also with the digital nomad visa, I really hope that once we know how it would work, it will be possible to apply for it. We will get a huge number of digital nomads coming to our country and contributing to our economy and social system.

Salman: So, your message to the investors and entrepreneurs and high net worth individuals is to not wait and just apply for the programs that you mentioned. I'm giving you the last word on the podcast if there's anything you want to say to potential clients of yours.

Alessia: Thank you very much. Yes, of course. We have a number of options that may be interesting for you. So, just get in touch, just try to know which option would be more suitable for you. And I'm sure that we will find a solution that will allow you to come to our country and stay, and if you want to work or just relax, enjoying the Italian environment.

Salman: Thank you so much for your time. You know, this was wonderful. You shared a lot of insights into Italy's residency by investment program about what's happening in the country. I'm sure our listeners have learned a ton from you and they are closely watching things happening in your country and the development which is happening there. And with your reassuring thoughts, I'm sure they'll be encouraged to apply for it. And thank you so much for once again speaking with us.

Alessia: Thank you to you for having me.

Salman: You've been listening to the "Investment Immigration Podcast" by uglobal.com. Join us again soon for more in-depth conversations exploring investment immigration opportunities from around the world.

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