For years, those who could afford it could essentially buy themselves access to various European countries. But not anymore.
This week, two countries ended their “golden visa” programs, as they became known. Both Ireland And Portugal will no longer allow millionaires to invest in their country in exchange for visas, Bloomberg reported Friday. The move comes as various governments consider the “appropriateness” of such policies, and after Britain ended its similar program a year ago.
“There’s an interesting paradox that countries are grappling with – on the one hand, they want investment,” Will Harvey, a professor at the University of Bristol, told Bloomberg. “The other side of the coin is a big political trend around the lens of very wealthy foreign investors having privileged status at a time when there are a lot of challenges for large sections of society.”
Golden visas became a thing after the 2008 financial crisis, with countries like Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain offering them as a means of attracting investment. Since then, they have brought in billions of dollars, while millionaires have found it easier journey and comfortable retirements, sometimes even citizenship.
Wealthy individuals flocked to Portugal, for example. There, an estimated net influx of 1,300 millionaires occurred last year, according to data from Henley & Partners and New World Wealth. And Chinese investors accounted for about half of the 11,628 residence permits granted over the years. To obtain this golden visa in Portugal, a person had to invest 350,000 euros ($375,000) in Portuguese real estate and create 10 jobs or pay 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million).
Yet these programs do not come without their detractors. Opponents argued they were driving up property prices, making buying a home unaffordable for residents with less means. In fact, Portugal’s prime minister cited housing issues in the country’s decision to end its golden visa program.
Although the demise of these programs signals a change in the way international travel and residency are handled, it is not necessarily the complete end of the practice. Some believe it is only a matter of time before it is reintroduced in other forms. “These programs have been opened and closed in many different countries for a very, very long time,” Nuri Katz, the founder of a citizenship-by-investment services company, told Bloomberg. “I guess in Portugal they are going to reform the program, not shut it down completely.”
Plus, these types of programs have spread far beyond Europe, to places like the Caribbean and Australia. So wealthy investors looking to land elsewhere still have plenty of remote locations to choose from.