Citizenship by Investment: Trending Toward Stricter Oversight

Last Updated on February 23, 2023

This article was originally published on 14 March 2022 and was updated on 30 March 2022 to reflect new information. 

In 1984, one year after gaining independence, St. Kitts and Nevis became the first country to launch an investment visa program that allowed foreign nationals to invest a large sum of money into the economy as a way to gain citizenship. Foreign nationals who were granted this citizenship by investment also gained access to visa-free travel to European Union (EU) member states and Switzerland due to an agreement with the EU.  

Since then, multiple countries across the globe have created their own so-called investment visa routes, with some granting foreign nationals the right to permanent residency or even citizenship. Through these programs, foreign nationals are able to make an investment into opportunities such as property or corporate entities in order to obtain long-term immigration status.  

In the European Union, countries like Spain, Portugal, Greece, Malta and more maintain residency by investment programs. Singapore and Hong Kong also have versions of investment visas. Argentina, Brazil, and Ecuador offer investment visas, with some permitting visa-free travel to the European Union for a limited period of time as a result of the common visa policy. South Africa also offers an investment visa route to foreign nationals who can contribute a minimum of ZAR five million to the economy.   

In the Middle East, countries like Bhutan, Kuwait, Oman and more have introduced versions of investment visas. In 2019, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) introduced a new system that allowed foreign nationals to gain long-term residence visas to live, work and study in the UAE for five or ten years depending on the investment type. Unlike most other immigration status types in the UAE, the “Golden Visa” does not require a foreign national to obtain sponsorship from an established company.  

Changes to Investment Visa Programs  

Despite the number of investment programs worldwide, a number of countries have opted to close or replace their investment visa routes due to security concerns and ongoing questions over an individual’s ability to seemingly purchase residence or citizenship in another country. Most recently, the European Parliament discussed abuse concerns specifically relating to “golden passports” and the perceived ability for investors to simply purchase citizenship. 

On 28 March 2022, the European Commission recommended that member states of the European Union (EU) suspend their investor visa schemes due to security concerns.  

Outside of Europe, the United Kingdom (UK) closed the Tier 1 Investment visa route, which had allowed participants to invest funds in capital for active and trading UK-registered companies. The route had allowed applicants to obtain work and residence authorization in the UK through this investment.  

As a result of these concerns, it is likely that modifications will be made to more programs. Some officials have called for more stringent background checks and vetting procedures and other jurisdictions have implemented measures that require foreign nationals interested in an investment visa category to obtain employer sponsorship or specific nomination before applying. 

In Hong Kong, applicants must hold a degree in higher education, be in the position to make a substantial contribution to the economy of Hong Kong and have a detailed two-year investment plan. The applicant must also be nominated by a local sponsor who is over the age of 18 and a resident of Hong Kong.  

Australia is another country where foreign nationals require an invitation to apply for an investor program type. Under the Significant Investor Stream, foreign nationals who invest a certain amount into the Australian economy can be granted a Business Innovation and Investment (Provisional) visa (subclass 188) and eventually a Permanent subclass 188 visa.  

In order to be eligible, the foreign national must be nominated by the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) or by another state or territory government agency in the country. Other qualifications include investing at least AUD five million and present a genuine desire to maintain this investment for the life of the provisional visa.  

In 2019, Canada permanently closed the Federal Investor program and Entrepreneur program and replaced it with the Start-Up Visa program. Under this program, foreign nationals are ultimately granted permanent residence in Canada. However, these individuals are first required to obtain a letter of support from a designated organization that is willing to invest in the start-up business in Canada. These designated organizations include angel investor groups, venture capital fund groups, or business incubators that have been approved by the Canadian government. 

As scrutiny of investment-related immigration programs around the world persists, governments may seek new ways to ensure that these programs can continue. Additional regulations and procedures including introducing sponsorship and nomination requirements appear to be the norm moving forward. 

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Content in this publication is for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an attorney at one of the two U.S. Law Firms working with the Envoy Platform or another qualified professional. On non-U.S. immigration issues, consult an Envoy global immigration service provider or another qualified representative.