By Moustafa Daly
Over the past three years, and particularly since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, residency and citizenship by investment programs have been seeing increased interest from global investors. Having their mobility heavily restricted in the pandemic era, many investors and wealthy individuals have been seeking residency and citizenship rights in other countries by way of investment to ensure their uninterrupted access to the world’s biggest markets.
This has led to a boom in the global RCBI industry, with programs sprouting out nearly everywhere. From Asia to the Pacific and the Middle East, new and existing residency by investment visa programs are fiercely competing to present global investors with favorable terms and conditions to attract their much-needed investments.
Europe’s golden visa programs seem to have remained the most popular go-to for many investors. Investors enjoy access to one of the world’s biggest free-trade blocs, freedom of movement across the continent, and high quality of life and public services.
However, the tides may be turning for golden visa programs in some EU countries that are contemplating ending theirs, which is only increasing investors’ interest in the short term as they seek to take advantage of the programs before they potentially come to an end.
Portugal’s golden visa program
Easily one of Europe’s most popular programs, Portugal’s Golden Visa has been the industry’s crown jewel since its launch in 2013. Ever since, the program has enabled 11,758 investors, in addition to 19,171 family members, to gain Portuguese residency by one of many routes including real estate investment or donating to cultural projects, for a minimum investment of €500,000 – however the amount was $250,000 for much of the program’s history. It’s also attracted an €6.85 billion of investments to the country since its inception, according to reports.
In 2022, the program was becoming more popular having attracted €654 million in investment throughout the year from 1,281 investors, significantly higher than the €460 million it managed to attract in 2021 – a testament to the program’s sustained and growing popularity. However, the Portuguese government has recently proposed ending the program citing a hike in property prices, and its proposal is soon to make it to the parliament which might approve changing the terms of the program or ending it altogether – a move which is expected to boost the program’s popularity in the short term – however it remains to be seen what will happen in 2023.
Spain’s golden visa program
Portugal’s only European neighbor, Spain, also has one of the continent’s most popular golden visa programs. For €500,000 real estate investment, applicants can gain residency rights in Spain with a path to citizenship within 10 years. The program has also been popular for investors, having launched in 2013 similar to Portugal. By the end of 2021, there were 7,425 golden visa holders in Spain, bringing in over €3 billion of investments to the Iberian country over the decade. In 2022, there has been a downturn in the number of permits given based on real-estate investments, with investors, reaching a record low of 136, a drastic decrease from the 497 real-estate golden visas issued a year earlier.
However, with nearby Portugal’s golden visa program expected to come to an end or at least to be majorly reformed and restricted, Spain’s golden visa may witness an uptick in interest from global investors in the coming while. It is noted that a Spanish minority party is now moving forward with a proposal to end the country’s golden visa, however, due to the party’s limited seats in parliament, it’s not expected to pass.
Greece’s golden visa program
In 2014, following an economic downturn and a debt crisis that has plagued the country for a few years, Greece was beginning its recovery journey and the golden visa program was introduced as part of the government’s effort to revive the economy – to major success. For a threshold of €250,000, relatively low by European standards, investors could get long-term residency and a route to citizenship in Greece. The program had been so popular, issuing as many as 2,767 golden visas in 2022 alone – the highest in Europe. However, in a bid to tame higher property prices, the government recently hiked the investment threshold to €500,000 in touristic and attractive areas of the country.
In less populated and rural areas, the amount remains at €250,000, which makes the program one of the cheapest still active in Europe and it’s set to continue remaining very popular in the foreseeable future.
Malta’s investor visas
Malta, the Mediterranean island nation that’s also an EU member, has a popular visa program that gives investors citizenship rights and EU access for at least €600,000 investment or contribution to the nation’s economy. Since 2014, the program has attracted around €600 million of foreign investment – a sizable sum for the island whose entire GDP stands at just above €17 billion. With Ireland recently shutting down its golden visa, and Portugal set to soon follow suit, the Maltese program is quickly becoming one of the most viable and hassle-free routes to EU residency - with media reports showing an explosion of interest over the past month since Portugal announced its plans to end its program.
The program hasn’t been without its hiccups, and with the EU expressing frustration over the program as it’s perceived to carry major security risks to the continent being the only program that offers citizenship without significant residency requirements, its future remains uncertain, which could be further increasing interest, applications and investments into the program in the short and medium term.
Italy’s dolce visa
Italy’s dolce visa isn’t yet as popular an option as Portugal and Greece's golden visas because it lacks a real estate option, which is often the most popular route for golden visa investors. Instead, a minimum investment of €250,000 in an innovative startup is its most affordable option. Other options include a €1 million philanthropic donation or €500,000 investment in a limited company. However, there have been reports about Italy’s possibility of introducing a real estate option before the parliament in 2023, but it’s yet to be confirmed.
Even without a real estate option, the dolce visa is seen as an up-and-comer in Europe’s RCBI industry. Considering the pressure faced internally and at the EU level by other programs — such as Portugal’s and Malta’s — and the hiked investment threshold in Greece, Italy’s dolce visa could soon witness increased interest and popularity.
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