The Squeeze On Investment Visas – What Should Happen Now?

Tom Burroughes Group Editor 6 March 2023

The Squeeze On Investment Visas – What Should Happen Now?

With these programmes, the subject of this interview says, the benefit is not just in the initial investment but all the investments later on, the taxes paid, the money spent in the economy, and the jobs created.

Just over a week ago, the global market for so-called “golden visas” (a term that some industry practitioners say is misleading) was rocked by news that Portugal was shutting its programme. The country acted within days of a similar move by Ireland. A year before, the UK closed its Tier 1 Investor visa programme, prompted by calls to close off the ability for wealthy Russians to park money in the West (a move that was seen as heavy-handed at the time, given how people from other nations were also affected). 

The market for cross-border citizenship solutions continues to evolve, and features a variety of firms that advise people on what to do, such as Henley & Partners. The Investment Migration Council, which has a secretariat in Geneva, was formed about a decade ago to speak on behalf of the industry. Another business operating in the space is Apex Capital Partners.

This news service recently spoke to Nuri Katz, Apex’s founder, about the market.

What sort of work does Apex do with HNW individuals who have used the “golden visa” systems operating over recent years? Which jurisdictions, if so, does it work with?
"Golden visa” is just a name many like to use when referring to investor immigration programmes that allow investors to apply for residence permits in various countries through an investment in a country’s economy. One of the major countries that offers such programmes is the US with the EB5 programme, which is probably the most popular “golden visa” programme in the world. 

Others are the Quebec investor programme and the Portuguese programme. Our company has worked with international investors for over 32 years who seek to take advantage of so-called “golden visa" programmes. So, for example, in the past we have worked with many Russian citizens interested in the EB5 programme in the US. We help identify appropriate and safe investments for them and liaise with various immigration and tax lawyers to assist clients to go through the immigration process as well as undertake pre-immigration tax planning. We also do much of the same in other jurisdictions, such as Cyprus, Portugal, Spain, Greece and elsewhere. 

Why do you think the Portuguese government shuttered this programme and do you think its reasons are justified?
The fact is the Portuguese government has NOT shuttered the programme.  At a press conference, the Prime Minister mentioned a plan to shut it in the future, but still has not done so. Portugal is having a very difficult economic crisis which has led to a housing crisis as well. Housing has become very expensive due to mostly Covid-related economic factors. 

Many Portuguese blame this on rich foreigners raising housing prices. Well the fact is that for over a year now applicants for “golden visas” have not been allowed to invest in housing in the major cities. A vast majority of the applicants invest in commercial property and in investment funds and as such do not affect the housing market at all. The Prime Minister made a populist statement blaming foreigners â€“ a tactic sometimes used to deflect the source of a country’s problems. I do not believe the programme will be closed as even if politicians are going to play politics with the foreigners, the country still needs the investments and therefore I believe the programme will just be reformed and continued. 

How significant are further threats to these golden visa programmes?
Most countries need foreign direct investment and programmes allowing investors to live in the country they invest in, will continue forever. The programmes may be reformed, maybe by trying to eliminate the stigma of the words “golden visa” that makes it sound as though these visas are somehow made of real gold and only available to the uber-rich, which is simply not the case. 

Do you see more examples of them being shut down or put on hold?
The US golden visa programme is actually the best example of a programme closed, then reformed and opened up again. The programme was suspended by Congress in June 2021, then reformed and opened up again in March 2022. The Irish programme seems to have been closed, but we still do not know if it will be replaced. The Canadian federal programme was closed but the various provinces opened their own programmes and are accepting investor immigrants as well. Spain had a programme in the 1990s that was closed but then opened up again in the 2000s. The countries need investors and governments are not always experienced in managing immigrant investor programmes, so often when they identify issues, they put them on halt, reform them, and open them up again.

What should the wider wealth industry do to explain why these programmes have value and should be retained?
The fact is that people want optionality in life. The investment to receive the residence permit is usually just the first investment that investors make when they move to a new country. The real value of these programmes is not the initial investment but all the investments later on, the taxes paid, the money spent in the economy, the jobs created. The fact is that wealthy immigrants create huge opportunities for local populations, and that is why they are important.

Where in the world do you think such programmes will continue to operate or even come back from a period of closure/suspension? 
Well, as mentioned, the US EB5 visa programme is really the biggest programme that was closed and then opened up again. The provincial programme in Quebec was closed but I believe it will open again. I also think that the Greece, Cyprus programmes will continue to be popular. I think that it is most likely that the programme in Portugal will simply be reformed to totally eliminate the residential real estate investment option. I also believe that programmes like this will open up in many Asian countries as well.


Dubai and certain other places continue to operate schemes, and it appears that in the UAE, for example, they haven’t gone after Russian expats under the post-Ukraine invasion sanctions. Do you see this as a source of friction in future?

Obviously the US is now on a witch hunt against all Russian citizens whom they collectively blame for the actions of the Russian government. Somehow, however illogical this might be, US government officials are convinced that if upper middle class Russians are allowed to leave Russia and invest elsewhere then that somehow will make it easier for the Russian government to pursue their goals in Ukraine. Clearly the US department of state and treasury officials are travelling all over the world trying to block even ordinary Russians from having access to banking and visas. It has created a lot of friction with many countries who believe that Russian people are like all other people and should have the right to live and work where they want. 

The countries pressured by the US are very upset about having their banking system threatened as well as other pressures being put on them by the Americans and have expressed this frustration. We can only assume that these threats will continue and that it will lead to more friction with numerous countries around the world. The fact is that 85 per cent of the world is not sanctioning Russians and doesn’t believe that sanctioning Russians will lead to peace with Ukraine, they are therefore very upset about the pressure being put on them to cancel all Russians.

Are there types of “golden visa” that you see as having more staying power in the long haul, such as those that aren’t seen as pumping up real estate values, etc? 
Well obviously the US EB5 programme will last as it was just renewed. I think many of the others will continue and if they have some effect on real estate prices and push locals out of the market then they will be reformed. 

These programmes have been in existence for decades, and countries understand that they are valuable for the economy. A lot of the negativism is just populistic rants of politicians who don’t care to understand these programmes and their value. As such, I do think many will continue and new ones will appear perhaps in other forms and with other names, but basically they will be investor immigration programmes.

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