The term golden visa, as flamboyant as it may sound, is nothing more than a way of referring to certain types of policies that allow a foreign national, regardless of his or her background, to gain access to citizenship or residency in a country in exchange for a certain level of investment. Put another way, golden visa programs are "specific policies developed by countries that seek to attract wealthy individuals to become residents or citizens."1

The golden passport programs are present, practically, all over the world. And although up to three types of golden visa programs can be differentiated by their characteristics, in this article we are going to focus on two:

  • Citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programs,
  • Residency by Investment (RBI) programs.

Both CBI and RBI schemes have increased dramatically over the last ten years. Perhaps the first and most prominent schemes were those of the Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis2 But above all, golden visas came into the media spotlight when they began to be implemented in the most important Anglo-Saxon countries: Australia, the United Kingdom and, above all, the United States..

This open market of nationalities and residences has given rise to curious events. For example, nationality quality indices such as the Henley & Partners/Kochenov QNI, now an industry benchmark, have emerged. What the QNI does is analyze the various factors that make one nationality better than another. In doing so, it takes into account legal status, economic strength, human development, peace and stability, as well as the ability to travel without a visa, or to settle and work abroad without the need for cumbersome formalities3.

Without going any further, in the latest QNI published in 2020, all EU Member States are ranked among the 30 most desirable nationalities in the world4.

Figure #1. Total golden visa applications approved over time.

Figure #1. Total golden visa applications approved over time.

Why are EU member countries ranked so high in the QNI? Well, because of their economic prosperity and stability and, above all, because of the fact that EU nationalities come with the right to be welcomed by other countries and societies5.

See also: Golden Visa: Why Spain?

What are the characteristics of the EU CBI/RBI plans?

  • First of all, they are obviously aimed at non-EU citizens.
  • Second, that the investments on which they are based can be active (those that require the creation of a company in the territory leading to the creation of jobs) or passive (financial capital is injected into a private company without the need to manage the company on a day-to-day basis, through a minimal amount transferred to government bonds, or with an acquisition in the real estate sector).
  • It should also be noted that they do not necessarily require applicants to spend time in the territory in which the investment is made.
  • Beyond these common features, it must be said that the CBI/RBI plans of the different EU countries have many specificities and vary greatly from one to another. These specificities are often overlooked in press reports and in the announcements of the commercial companies that operate them.

Conclusion

In short, the exchange of residence or citizenship for money, especially within the EU, has become normalized. Nearly half of the union's member states now use CBI/RBI schemes to attract capital. As long as participants park their money in the country, they can enter and reside freely.

While the number of participants is nowhere near as large as those on skilled worker or family visas, their proliferation cannot be doubted. And these data are a good indication that migration policies can also be used to attract money as well as people. Another way to boost the economy by tapping into foreign human capital.

Source:

  1. Džankić J., 'Immigrant investor programmes in the EU', Journal of contemporary European studies, 26-1, 2018.
  2. For a concise history of these programs, see Shachar, A., Citizenship for Sale?, The Oxford Handbook of Citizenship, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 794-796.
  3. See the Nationality Index. For its third edition published in 2018, France was ranked first, followed by Germany, Iceland, Denmark and the Netherlands.
  4. 22 out of the 28 EU Member States are ranked as 'extremely high quality' in terms of rights and opportunities associated to their nationalities, whereas 6 (Malta, Latvia, Cyprus, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia) are ranked as 'very high quality'. 
  5. See the QNI methodology

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