By Moustafa Daly
Golden visas, or residency by investment programs, were first introduced to the world in the mid-1980s when St. Kitts & Nevis, a small Caribbean island with a powerful passport, launched its own investment immigration program. Soon after, Canada followed suit in 1986, and thereafter the global residency and citizenship by investment (RCBI) began to take shape across the world.
Many countries seeking to attract funds to their economies by offering favorable terms and residency or citizenship rights to foreign investors have established investor visa programs since then. The programs that have attained sustained popularity have typically been ones in Europe, the United States, and countries with visa-free access to either location have sustained popularity.
Since the pandemic, however, the global RCBI industry has begun to see significant shifts. More Western countries seem to be limiting their RCBI programs, citing security risks or housing pricing issues, decidedly moving towards more active investment routes rather than passive (real estate) investments.
Another significant change is the rise of an increasingly competitive RCBI industry across Asia. In the aftermath of the pandemic, many Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand began pursuing friendlier immigration policies aiming particularly at attracting wealthy individuals and professional talent.
To that end, many countries in Southeast Asia have elaborate RCBI offerings drawing increasing demand from global investors seeking to improve their global mobility during times of uncertainty and gain a foothold in one of the world’s biggest economic regions.
We bring you an extensive guide on Asia’s top RCBI programs in 2023.
Singapore - Global Investor Program
Singapore launched its five-year investor visa in 2004, initially entailing an investment of S$2.5 million ($1.86) from foreign applicants. In early 2023, Singapore quadrupled the investment threshold for its Global Investor Program to S$10 million ($7.42), making it the world’s most expensive RBI program.
To qualify, applicants need to be an established business owner presiding over a business with an annual turnover of at least S$200 million ($150 million) for the preceding three years.
Also, new business owners can apply as Next Generation Business Owners, however, the applicants’ families should own at least 30% of the business/company used in the application. The company’s annual turnover needs to be at least S$500 million ($376 million) in the three years preceding the application.
A third route is open to entrepreneurs or founders of startups valued at least S$500 million ($376 million). The fourth and final route is for owners of family businesses with net investible assets of at least S$200 million ($150 million), excluding real estate.
Successful applicants are granted a renewable five-year visa to Singapore.
Malaysia - Premium Visa Programme (PVIP) & Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H)
Malaysia launched its MM2H RBI visa program in 2002, one of the oldest in Asia. Applicants are required to deposit RM 1 million ($227,000) in the country and have a monthly income of at least RM 40,000 ($9000) to be eligible. They must also have at least RM 1.5 million ($340,000) in liquid assets and be aged 35 or above.
The visa is granted for five renewable years and allows holders to do business or seek employment in the country. However, they must spend 90 days a year in the country to maintain their permits.
In late 2022, Malaysia launched another RBI program, the Premium Visa Programme (PVIP)with somewhat similar conditions: a RM 1 million ($216,000) deposit and a monthly income of RM 40,000 ($9,000) generated outside of Malaysia.
It also includes one-off processing fees of RM 200,000 ($45,000) for the main applicant and an additional RM 100,000 ($22,600) for each dependent.
PVIP is open to applicants of any age does not require proof of liquid assets, is granted for 20 renewable years, and holders have the right to seek employment or launch businesses in the country without restrictions. Its processing time lasts 60 days.
Thailand - Thailand Elite Visa Program & Smart Visa Program
Thailand’s two main residency-by-investment programs are the Elite Visa and the Smart Visa. The first one was launched in 2003 to attract high-net-worth individuals and entrepreneurs to Thailand, while the second one was introduced in 2018 to draw foreign experts and investors to the country's targeted industries.
The Elite Visa Program offers membership packages ranging from five to 20 years. The deals vary in price from Thai Baht 600,000 ($17K) to Thai Baht 2 million ($59,000), depending on the visa.. Benefits include a fast-track immigration process, a personal concierge service, access to exclusive clubs and events, and discounts on hotels, restaurants, and shopping.
The program has generated over THB 7 billion ($205 million) in revenue for Thailand since its launch, attracting over 30,000 members from more than 50 countries, including China, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In 2020 alone, the program generated over THB 1.4 billion ($42 million) in revenue, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
In August 2023, the Thai government announced that the Elite Visa program is to soon witness a major revamp, with media reports saying that the investment threshold is expected to be hiked to at least THB 900,000 ($26,000) for a five-year, renewable visa. For a 20-year visa, the threshold will be set at TBH 5 million ($143,000). The new changes are set to come in effect by October 31, 2023. Investors can still apply on the old conditions and threshold until September 15, 2023.
The Smart Visa Program, on the other hand, aims to attract foreign experts and investors to ten targeted industries in Thailand, including next-generation automotive, smart electronics, medical and wellness tourism, and digital technology businesses. The program offers four categories of visas: the foreign experts and executives "T" visa; the investors "I" visa; the entrepreneurs "E" visa, and the "O" visa for dependents of Smart Visa holders. These visas are valid for four years and holders can renew them indefinitely.
Since 2018, this visa program has attracted over 2,400 foreign experts and investors, with holders mainly from China, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The program has also generated over THB 2 billion ($58.5 million) in investment in the targeted industries, according to the Thailand Board of Investment.
Indonesia - Second Home, Permanent Residency, and Investment visa programs
In late 2022, Indonesia launched its Second Home Program. The residency-by-investment initiative offers a ten-year visa to foreign nationals with proven savings of at least 2 billion rupiah ($135,000) or more. The program’s goal is to attract high-net-worth individuals and retirees.
Applicants must be at least 55, with a valid passport, and a clean criminal record. They must also prove they have sufficient savings or pension funds to support themselves in Indonesia.
Indonesia has also seen significant growth in the Permanent Residency Program and the Investment Visa (IV).
The Permanent Residency visa started in 2018 aimed at high-net-worth individuals and investors, who must invest a minimum of 10 billion Indonesian rupiahs ($673,000) in Indonesia to obtain the ten-year residency permit. Applicants also should have a good track record of business and investment activities.
This residency-by-investment visa has attracted over 100 applicants since 2018, and most are from China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States. It has also generated over 1 trillion rupiahs ($70 million) in investment for Indonesia, recent figures show.
Meanwhile, since 2019 the Investment Visa (IV) offers a two-year residency permit to individuals who invest a minimum of 1 billion rupiahs ($67,000) in the country.
This visa program attracted over 2,000 applicants since its 2019 launch, mostly from China, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea. The program has also generated over 2.2 trillion Indonesian rupiahs ($150 million) in investment for Indonesia, according to the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM).
In addition, the country recently announced a separate program for investors and remote workers to relocate to the island of Bali. The full details of the program are yet to be made public, but it would grant foreign investors five-to-ten year visas in exchange for purchasing property or starting businesses on the island. The goal is to simulate tourism and attract investments to this popular tourist location.
Hong Kong - Capital Investment Entrant Scheme
Hong Kong first introduced its investor visa scheme in 2003, but halted the program to tackle a housing pricing crisis in 2015. In April 2023, amidst intensifying competition for talent and funds in the Asia and the world, Hong Kong announced the imminent resumption of its RBI program, namely Capital Investment Entrant Scheme (CIES), in a bid to attract capital to the island emerging from pandemic restrictions and years of civil unrest.
The government has yet to announce the application process and investment threshold fully. However, the previous version of the program was already pricier side of things, requiring at least HK$10 million ($1.27 million) of investment.
This time around, the program would not include a real estate option but rather active investments that generate employment or mobilize funds into the special administrative region’s industrial and commercial sectors.
Along with the residency visa, Hong Kong also launched a Talent Pass to attract foreign talent. Due to the pandemic and tensions with mainland China over the past three years, the region lost approximately 180,000 professional talent.
The Hong Kong government has reintroduced the Capital Investment Entrant Scheme and the Talent Pass as measures to directly compete with Singapore to attract talent and funds. Government officials and the media perceive Singapore’s program as the benchmark to surpass.
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