Why Residency/Citizenship-By-Investment Visas Aren't Going Away

Tom Burroughes Group Editor London 12 April 2023

Why Residency/Citizenship-By-Investment Visas Aren't Going Away

This news service speaks to a business that has offices in a number of jurisdictions – including Russia – which advises people on visa programmes aimed at wealthy individuals and their families.

In February this year, the European Union states of Portugal and Ireland shut their citizenship/residency-by-investment visa programmes, sometimes dubbed “golden visas.” (In Portugal’s case, it is unclear whether the scheme is now officially shut down; it appears to be still up and running, as of the time of going to press.)

In 2022, the UK took the same step in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, because Russians have been prominent applicants for these visas. Critics said the move was excessive, given how many non-Russians also used these channels. Portuguese politicians said they acted because they were concerned about rising property prices and the lack of affordable housing for local citizens. At times, these visas have been criticised for similar reasons in other countries such as Canada. 

There is a network of advisory firms explaining the benefits of these programmes, which advise high net worth individuals on them. Examples include Bartra Wealth Advisors, and Henley & Partners. Below, this news service talks to Apex Capital Partners, about the recent programme shutdowns, and about the state of the market. We talked to Nuri Katz, Apex’s founder. As we see below, he’s unafraid to speak his mind about what he thinks of those who want to shut these schemes down. Apex has offices in Montenegro, Russia (Moscow), Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, Canada, Cyprus, and Saint Lucia.

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?
The word “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. Another is the Quebec investor programme, and the Portuguese programme. Our company has worked with international investor programmes for over 32 years which 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 the clients to go through the immigration process as well as do 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 has acted?
The fact is the Portuguese government has NOT shuttered the programme. The Prime Minister at a press conference 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 matters. 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, as blaming foreigners is always the best [distraction] when discussing a country’s problems. I do not believe the programme will be closed because, 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 like 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 and then reformed and opened up again. The programme was suspended by congress in June 2021, then reformed and opened again in March 2022. The Irish programme seems to have 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 90s that was closed but then opened 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, 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 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 witchhunt 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 will somehow 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 pressure 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. People don’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, 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.

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