Fifteen EU countries, along with the UK, the United States and the UAE, which offer gilded passports or visas to investors, are now considering imposing restrictions on citizenship payment plans, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In a vote last month on the gradual abolition of investment-based citizenship programs, European leaders said the programs had become a “back door to dirty money”.
The three EU countries offering gilded passports – Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta – are all gradually stopping or considering ending their programs. The 12 EU countries that offer gilded visas or investment residence permits, including Portugal, Latvia, Greece, Spain and Hungary, are also considering new restrictions on the program, or their abolition. The UK plans to repeal its gold visa program, which gives foreign nationals permanent residency if they invest at least $ 2.7 million.
According to data from the British government, eight Russian oligarchs who have been sanctioned following ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin have previously bought their way to Britain under an “investor visa” program. The program allows foreign nationals to apply for permanent residency within five years or less, depending on the level of investment. According to the Financial Times, the UK granted 798 investor visas between September 2020 and 2021 – 82 of which were granted to Russian citizens.
Britain canceled its investor visa program last month, amid worsening relations with Russia, even before the invasion of Ukraine began.
Portugal: The visa is renewed every two years
As mentioned, the UK is not the only one that has programs offering investor visas to the rich, Russians or others. Portugal offers two-year residence visas to people who have invested in the country, sometimes even for low investments on the order of $ 200,000, depending on where the money is invested. The visa can be easily renewed every two years, as long as the investment is maintained, with the option to apply for Portuguese citizenship after five years. In addition, gold visa holders can stay in Portugal only seven days a year and maintain their status.
Malta goes a step further, offering full citizenship to anyone willing to invest about $ 1.1 million in the country. Because Malta is a member of the European Union, the country’s gold passport program provides another advantage: Purchasing a Maltese passport gives owners the opportunity to live and work in any EU country. According to the Times of Malta, 54.3% of candidates for Malta’s Passport for Cash program were Russian citizens, at the time of its launch in 2014.
European leaders have long been critical of Malta’s investor citizenship program, and pressure has intensified, of course, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Western leaders have expressed readiness to make efforts to “restrict the sale of citizenship – so-called gold passports – which allows wealthy Russians connected to the Russian government to become citizens of our countries and gain access to our financial systems.”
Malta is one of the few countries to offer citizenship for sale, alongside Turkey, Dominica and St. Kitts and Nevis, and indeed, following the Russian invasion and pressure exerted by the West, on March 2, Malta now has its gold passport program for Russian and Belarusian citizens.
According to CNN network in Portugal, Russian citizens who applied for a gold visa have brought in $ 308 million to the country’s economy in the last decade. Two days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva announced that Portugal would stop issuing investment visas to Russian citizens.
However, there is one Russian oligarch with Portuguese citizenship, who did not get his status from being rich. In 2021, Roman Abramovich – the billionaire and until recently owner of the English football club Chelsea – received citizenship as part of a program that grants citizenship to the descendants of Sephardic Jews deported from Portugal 400 years ago. Last month Portugal announced that it intends to amend this law, to prevent its “manipulations”.
Roman Abramovich / Photo: Reuters, Maxim Shemetov
The various “Visa for Investment” programs help significantly in the economies of European countries that are in crisis or facing difficulties. Also in Latvia, the Golden Visa program has given the rich the opportunity to acquire residency, according to specific investment requirements. Now, the Latvian authorities have announced that the country intends to abandon the golden visa program, emphasizing that the ban will apply to citizens of Russia and Belarus.
UAE: A haven for Bollywood stars
On the other side of the world, too, the door is open for wealthy investors. In 2019, the UAE launched a five-year residence visa program for anyone investing $ 1.4 million in the region, and a ten-year visa for anyone investing $ 2.7 million in UAE funds or companies. The program is designed to help support the country’s economy following the effects of the corona.
The program proved to be popular with wealthy Indians, including some of the Bollywood stars, who took advantage of Dubai’s easy taxation terms. Russian oligarchs are also reportedly investing in real estate in Dubai. According to the New York Times, at least 38 businessmen with ties to Vladimir Putin owned estates worth more than $ 318 million in Dubai.
Even in the United States, which is known for its rigid immigration policy, there is a gilded visa program, which allows for obtaining a visa for investment. Capitalists interested in U.S. citizenship can apply for an EB-5 visa, which guarantees residency status for those who invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in the United States.
There are two ways for investors to obtain residency status: one is to invest in an American company that employs at least 10 Americans, and the other is to invest in a “regional center” – a project approved by U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services, to connect international investors with local developers in need of funding. The Hudson Yards project in New York was one such regional center, and $ 1.2 billion of its funding came from EB-5 investors.
Last month, lawmakers in Congress reached an agreement to reform and re-approve the EB-5 visa program. The changes included increasing the investment required in unemployment areas higher than the 500,000 required so far to $ 800,000, and an increase of $ 50,000 per million required in other projects. The changes also include increased monitoring of plans and detailed screening of applications by the Department of Homeland Security.