Portugal has proved to be the most popular destination in Europe for investors seeking a golden visa. Full residency is granted but there is no requirement to reside. Citizenship can be applied for after six years.
The Portuguese golden visa is a central feature of the government’s drive for international investment. With the country returning to growth the real estate market offers exciting prospects for the years ahead.
Cyprus offers citizenship for investment levels of €2.5 million in real estate which is one of the big attractions of this programme. A Cypriot passport allows freedom to travel, study, work or live throughout the European Union.
Cyprus also offers residency through investment of just €300,000 allowing full family qualification. The investor visa is flexible with no requirement to live in the country.
Spain is a firm favourite for many clients considering real estate investment to obtain a golden visa. One of the larger economies in Europe offering an investor visa programme.
Invest from €500,000 in real estate to gain the Spanish golden visa. This provides a flexible residency option. Permanent residency and citizenship can be applied for at a later stage subject to certain stipulations.
Greece offers a residency visa through property investment but eventual citizenship is not available to foreigners. Greece is a member of the EU Schengen visa zone and has no minimum stay requirement.
Prospective investors need to carefully consider the status of the economy in Greece, the real estate market and related property taxes. Greece offers a higher risk investment than other European nations.
Malta offers an Individual Investor Program which is appropriate for our very high net worth clients. In addition to committing to a residence in Malta for five years the scheme requires investment in government approved funds and instruments.
The Malta visa scheme leads to citizenship within one year for suitable applicants, a passport from an EU country and hence the freedom to live anywhere within the EU. The total investment required is typically in excess of €1.2 million.
The citizenship by investment programme for Grenada is one of the newest programmes available to investors. The Grenada passport offers visa-free travel to over 70 countries including the UK.
Grenada offers a low investment threshold. Applicants need invest just $250,000 in a government approved real estate project and maintain the investment for at least 4 years.
The citizenship by investment programme for Antigua and Barbuda provides a second passport to investors offering visa-free travel to over 100 countries including the UK, EU Schengen zone and Canada.
There are several options for investment to gaining citizenship in Antigua including real estate investment of a minimum $400,000.
The St. Kitts & Nevis Citizenship by Investment Program is the oldest of its kind in the world. Established in 1984 the program grants citizenship through real estate investment to qualified applicants.
The government requires investment of $400,000 plus related government and due diligence fees. St Kitts offer visa free travel to over 120 countries. An ideal choice for a second passport.
This year 2016 has proven to be a further step on the ever developing market for investor visa programmes. Demand is increasing for most schemes, many programmes have changed and further amendments are expected in 2017.
We have highlighted below some of the key developments in 2016 and expectations of change in the year ahead.
The delays in SEF in processing golden visa applications in mid 2015 led to a drop in numbers. However a new fast track procedure introduced earlier this year has put applications back on track. The number of approved applications in 2016 looks set to be the highest ever running at over 2000 investors per annum. The introduction of a €350,000 limit for renovation projects is taking time to produce the necessary supply. Such projects are complicated and need to be fully managed. La Vida has sourced some interesting options for clients and we will see more of these in 2017. The property market is gaining strength in Portugal with price rises over the last three years now fuelling growth and demand. Developers are reluctant to offer discounts and the best properties are sold long before completion.
There were some key changes introduced in 2016 to the Cyprus citizenship and residency programmes.
The qualifying real estate investment level for citizenship was reduced from €2.5 million to €2.0 million. The timescale for achieving the pasport increased to six months as it is now necessary to hold residency (but not necessary to live in Cyprus) before being issued a passport. It still remains the fastest route to EU citizenship.
The residency programme was amended to include parents. Three generations can now be included for an investment of just €300,000 in real estate. A key benefit is that this is for Permanent Residency (PR).
Changes for 2017 could see Cyprus becoming part of the EU Schengen zone. Anyone obtaining the Permanent Residency before that point will no doubt retain it should Cyprus enter Schengen. The EU has not allowed any Schengen country to issue Permanent Residency immediately on investment. Should Schengen happen then we can expect some changes to the programme. Investors may be wise to act sooner to grab the benefits on offer.
The economy in Cyprus may well see a further boost in 2017 with the discovery of huge natural gas resources off the coastline and the development of its first casino under the Hard Rock brand.
Political developments in Hungary could well see the end of the residency bond visa programme in 2017. It has been possible to obtain residency in Hungary through a €300,000 investment in government residency bonds. However Hungary’s nationalist opposition party Jobbik is seeking an end to the programme in return for its support on other matters. Parliament closes this week so unless change happens in the next few days we can expect no further developments until at least February 2017. Still time for any investor to get their application in ahead of any changes.
We can expect changes in 2017 to the recently launched citizenship programme in St. Lucia. The scheme has been in operation less than 12 months but there is a new government in place and new ideas and our conversations with those close to the programme suggest a more coordinated and consolidated programme will be launched in 2017.
The number of Portuguese Golden Visas granted this year has already exceeded the total issued in the whole of 2015.
That’s according to official figures issued by the immigration authorities in Portugal, SEF.
In total 821 Golden Visas have been approved so far in the six month period up to 30th June 2016. That’s more than the total for 2015 as a whole.
The 2015 figures took a hit when the government temporarily postponed the programme in mid 2015 while they put new procedures and rules in place to avoid a repeat of the visa issuing fraud that saw the resignation of the then Minister of Internal Affairs, Miguel Macedo. New rules were introduced by September 2015 and visa application processing started again. Investments and visits made by applicants never stopped throughout this period. It was just that the processing of subsequent applications was delayed while new procedures were introduced.
By early 2016 a new fast-track procedure was introduced whereby clients submitting their full documentation could be processed for a golden visa in under 3 months. La Vida clients who have invested this year have already benefited from this accelerated golden visa application process.
This year, 2016, looks set to break the previous record of 2014 when a total of 1526 golden visas were issued by SEF. To date 94% of all golden residence permit investments have been into real estate, the remaining 6% into venture capital funded investments or job creation. The programme has so far introduced 2.2 billion Euros in inward investment for Portugal since its launch in 2012.
Portugal remains the most popular programme for residency investment in Europe. A combination of low cost investment (€500,000), certainty regarding real estate ownership with 100% retained by the investor and no government donation along with a minimum stake of just two weeks every two years and the possibility of citizenship make it Europe’s most successful golden visa programme. Read more on the benefits.
On the 23 June 2016 the UK electorate voted to leave the EU. So how does this affect immigration investment programmes in Europe that can lead to residency in the United Kingdom?
European Union citizens are free to travel, work and live in any other EU country. This means for countries such as Cyprus and Malta who issue citizenship and second passports through investment, that any investor in these programmes who gains a passport of that country, is free to live anywhere in the EU, including the UK.
It is important to understand at this point that the UK has not left the EU. The UK population has voted 52% to 48% to leave. But the referendum result is not legally binding and it is now down to the UK Prime Minister to invoke Article 50 of the European Union. Once invoked this starts a two year process for the UK to leave the European Union. David Cameron the current UK Prime Minister has gracefully passed this task on to his successor, whoever that may be.
The degree of Euro sceptism among potential candidates for Prime Minister varies with talk of potentially re-negotiating Britain’s position within the EU or maintaining many of the benefits and restraints within a new deal. Writing this just a few days after the referendum there seem to be many ways this could now play out, and varying timescales as to when it will eventually be resolved.
But let’s for the moment assume that the UK does invoke Article 50 and the UK leaves the EU.
One of the key principles of the European Union is the free movement of people. And that is the key question that concerns us when it comes to residency or citizenship by investment in any of the other EU countries. All EU members have to abide by this. In addition other countries gaining access to the single market such as Norway are also required to comply.
Until Article 50 is invoked and for the two year period afterwards then the UK remains part of the EU. This means that for the next two years, nothing will change. Any EU citizen can live in the UK or anywhere else in the EU.
For those EU nationals already living in the UK at the time of the UK leaving the EU (2018 possibly 2019) we suspect the chances of being allowed to remain are very high.
There are 3 million EU nationals living in the UK currently and 1 million UK nationals living elsewhere in the European Union. We expect an undignified 3 for 1 swap across the English Channel is unlikely. We also believe that there will be no distinction between those who entered post referendum or even post Article 50.
The reason being that such residents entered the UK completely legally under rules and laws at the time. Not only would it be difficult for a government to send back or “deport” such residents we expect it would not be in the government’s interests to enter into any political row with it’s European neighbours.
Our advice to anyone seeking UK residency through investment in the EU is to act now. Gaining residency in the UK directly through investment under the Tier 1 programme is virtually impossible in the current climate. Residency through a EU passport, as explained above, is the only viable option and one that is likely to remain an option for the next two years. The only countries through which an EU passport can be gained by investment within this timescale are Malta and Cyprus.
The earlier such investment is made, the earlier UK residency can be undertaken and the more likely it is that such residency will not be affected upon the UK leaving the EU.