By Mykolas Rambus, Chair of the Global Investor Immigration Council
It is clear that we are in the middle of a surge in popularity for investor immigration programs. Looking at trends over the last five years, we can begin to understand what the future may hold for residence by investment programs. The table below contains available data on residence visas granted in eight of the most popular programs over the last five years. It should be noted that the data does not always reflect statistics for the calendar year, as some countries report data for their differing financial years. Where available, numbers are included for both main applicants (“Main”) and total visas granted to main applicants and family members (“Total”).
It is clear that the U.S., Canada and Hong Kong have long had the most popular immigrant investor programs. However, all three face uncertain futures. The U.S. program reached its limit in 2014 and now has a large backlog of applications; without changing the visa limit, it cannot continue to grow. Canada cancelled its federal program in 2014. While the Quebec program continues to operate, it will not have the capacity to meet existing demand and backlog applications. The investment thresholds and other requirements of Canada’s new Immigrant Investor Venture Capital Pilot Program rules that route out for the majority of prospective Canadian immigrant investors. Hong Kong suspended its Capital Investment Entrant Scheme in early 2015, and does not look set to reopen it.
The status of the U.S., Canada and Hong Kong programs has left many prospective immigrant investors in limbo. The situation particularly effects Chinese nationals, who are the major applicants to all three programs. Experts predict that Chinese nationals could face two or three years of waiting and uncertainty before their U.S. EB-5 visas are approved. In Canada, there were around 65,000 unprocessed applications when the federal program was closed; around 70% were Chinese. In Hong Kong, there were an average of more than 4,000 visas approval for principal investor applicants in each of the last four years of the program. Thus many prospective immigrant investors will be forced to look to other destinations.
The U.K. program still has capacity to grow, but the recent doubling of the investment threshold may restrict it to the wealthier end of applicants. Likewise, Australia’s Significant Investor Visa and New Zealand’s Investor Plus category have capacity, but require significantly more investment than the U.S., Canada and Hong Kong programs. For high-net worth individuals looking for alternative residence, emerging programs in Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Portugal, Spain are more affordable and will grow in appeal.
Those with requisite funds may also look towards citizenship programs in Malta and Cyprus, which offer greater visa-free travel options and coveted residence in Europe’s Schengen zone. For Chinese nationals, however, single citizenship policy would force a difficult decision, as giving up Chinese citizenship may be an impediment to their business interests in China. The citizenship programs in Malta and Cyprus may also attract investors who would previously have chosen an option in the Caribbean. However, the lower investment costs in the Caribbean should ensure they continue to enjoy strong uptake. In particular programs in Grenada and Dominica will grow in appeal, with both nations having recently agreed visa-free travel arrangements with the European Union.