Prime Minister Joseph Muscat claims Malta’s planned Individual Investor Programme is similar to other EU schemes. Patrick Cooke sees if this is true.

Spain

Spain has suffered more than most from the worldwide financial crisis, and its recently launched “Golden Visa” scheme is one of the ways it is trying to attract more foreign investment.

Third-country nationals spending a minimum €500,000 on property will gain a residence visa that can be renewed for up to five years and allows travel throughout the Schengen area.

After five years, beneficiaries may apply for permanent residency, which will require them to live in Spain for at least 183 days per year.

“The Spanish scheme does allow straightforward access to residency in Spain, but not to the citizenship,” explained Alfonso Autuori, senior associate in immigration law at top Spanish law firm ECIJA.

Spain’s scheme allows straight forward access to residency, but not citizenship

“Citizenship would only be granted after 10 years of continued effective residence in Spain.”

This means that beneficiaries would have had to reside in Spain for more than 183 days per year for 10 years before they would be eligible for citizenship, Mr Autuori said.

Cyprus

Bruised by the global financial crisis to such an extent that it taxed wealthier residents’ bank deposits in March, Cyprus sweetened the deal a month later by announcing it would grant fast-track citizenship to foreigners who incurred losses of €3 million or more due to measures on its main banks.

Fast-track citizenship is also offered to those who invest at least €2.5 million in Cyprus, comprising €2 million in shares or bonds issued by the National Investment Company, and a €500,000 donation to the Research and Technology Fund.

Alternatively, would-be citizens can invest at least €5 million in property, businesses, shares in public companies, or financial assets; or they can be a substantial shareholder or owner of a company that paid at least €500,000 per year in tax over the preceding five years.

Whichever criteria they apply under, applicants would also need to own a permanent residence in Cyprus worth at least €500,000.

Portugal

Portugal introduced its “Golden Visa” scheme last January, granting residency and freedom of movement in the Schengen area initially for one year, renewable for successive periods of two years.

After five years, beneficiaries can apply for permanent residency and they are eligible for Portuguese citizenship the following year.

Applicants qualify for a Portuguese Golden Visa if they transfer a minimum of €1 million to the country, or they purchase property worth at least €500,000, or they create at least 10 long-term jobs in Portugal.

Speaking last month, Portugal’s Consul General in Macau, Vítor Sereno, said 168 of the 226 Golden Visas issued so far had gone to Chinese citizens.

Austria

Austria can choose to grant citizenship “because of the services already provided by the foreigner and the extraordinary achievements still to be expected of him in the special interest of the Republic”.

In theory, this means citizenship can be gained through extraordinary but undefined financial commitments to Austria.

In practice, no one was naturalised in 2012 through the extraordinary paragraph in the Citizenship Act, according to Statistics Austria, and only 23 people were granted citizenship in this way in 2011.

Website best-citizenships.com, which used to advertise a scheme requiring at least a €3 million investment for Austrian citizenship, says the programme is “no longer possible”.

Bulgaria

The EU’s poorest country, which is not a member of the eurozone or Schengen area, has an Immigrant Investor Programme granting permanent residence status. Beneficiaries are eligible for citizenship after two or five years, depending on their investment.

Applicants must invest €511,292 into a government bond portfolio under trust management for five years, which is returned after this period without accrued interest.

Alternatively, they can invest a non-returnable sum of €180,000.

Citizenship can be gained within two years if an applicant doubles their investment by putting €512,000 into the capital of a Bulgarian company that is carrying out a Priority Investment Project.

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