By Moustafa Daly
Starting Feb. 15, 2023, the Irish Immigrant Investor Program will no longer be active, according to a statement by the Irish Minister for Justice Simon Harris.
“I have recommended that it is now timely to close this programme to new applications, and have received government agreement to close it for further applications from close of business tomorrow, 15 February 2023,” stated Harris.
Established in 2012, the Ireland Immigrant Investor Program enabled candidates to obtain Irish residency (and EU mobility) given an investment or donation to the country’s economy and an estimated personal net wealth of at least €2 million – the program has attracted over €1.17 billion in investment to Ireland since the start, according to the Irish Dept of Justice.
In early 2022, the EU Parliament warned the country that its program was particularly vulnerable to tax evasion and abuse on part of the applicants – all-the-while volume of applicants tripled in the first nine months of 2022 as per media reports. Over the past year, the Irish Department of Justice voiced concern about the program and launched a review.
The program’s surge in popularity in 2022 was seen as a result of its seemingly imminent suspension, which is now in effect as anticipated.
The majority of the program’s applicants are Chinese nationals, with a staggering number of 94% of the total applicants since the launch of the program coming from one nation. Throughout 2022, only 14 out of 1316 applications were from non-Chinese nationals.
The Irish decision is the result of a one-year review
The program had been under a year-long review by the Justice Department, which just concluded by announcing its closure.
“It is important that we keep all programmes under review including any implications for wider public policy, such as the continuing appropriateness and suitability of this programme for cultural, social and economic use,” read the statement.
“We have also taken on board a number of reports and findings from international bodies such as the EU Commission, Council of Europe and OECD on similar investment programmes.”
EU’s pushback against all RCBI programs, including Ireland’s
The inclination to close the program was cemented by the EU’s opposition to RCBI programs across the continent and calling upon their suspension or tighter regulations.
“CBI/RBI schemes constitute free-riding and produce severe consequences for the Union and the Member States, a financial contribution to the Union budget is warranted for both CBI schemes and RBI schemes,” stated an EU parliament report in early 2022, prepared by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
The chair of the committee, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, reportedly further expressed his skepticism of Ireland’s RBI scheme in particular: "[Golden Visas] must be related to actual economic activity linked with growth and job creation. That is the point that we are making from the European parliament,” he said. "That of course includes Ireland which is a member state of the European Union."
Citizenship-by-investment programs are particularly targeted by the EU
Other programs across the continent have come under EU scrutiny over the past year, most prominently Malta, which the EU commission is taking to court over its program. The Maltese and Cypriot programs, however, allow the granting of nationality in exchange for a financial investment, which the EU seems adamant on phasing out across the continent.
Programs that offer residency for investment, like Portugal and Greece’s among others, are seen as less of a threat but still requiring tighter control and regulations to “govern various aspects of RBI schemes with the aim of harmonizing standards and procedures,” as per an EU Parliament statement on the matter in 2022.
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