The Rise and Uncertainty of European Golden Visa

Between 2011 and 2019, over 132,000 people obtained citizenship through Residency and Citizenship Investment programs in European countries such as Portugal, Greece, Italy, and Spain. These programs, commonly known as Golden Visas, have been a popular pathway for obtaining residency and citizenship in Europe. This blog delves into recent trends, changes, and the uncertain future of these programs.

Overview of Golden Visa statistics

  • Steady Accessibility of Golden Visas

Despite the potential concerns and scrutiny surrounding Golden Visa programs, the process of obtaining these visas has remained relatively consistent in terms of difficulty. According to a recent report, there hasn’t been a significant increase in the complexity or challenges faced by applicants. This steady accessibility has continued to attract a substantial number of applicants from various parts of the world.

  • Portugal’s Increasing Popularity

In 2022, Portugal’s Golden Visa program experienced a significant uptick in demand. The country issued 1,218 golden visas, a notable increase compared to previous years. This rise can be attributed to the program’s attractiveness due to Portugal’s stable economy, appealing lifestyle, and the benefits that come with residency in a European Union country.

  • Greece’s Surge in Applications

Greece also witnessed a substantial increase in Golden Visa applications, receiving a total of 4,365 requests in the previous year. Remarkably, there was a surge in applications in the last quarter of the year, indicating a growing interest in the country as a destination for investment and residency. Greece’s Golden Visa program is particularly appealing due to its lower investment thresholds and access to the Schengen Area.

  • Italy’s Appeal to Diverse Nationals

Italy granted 79 golden visas in the same period, with the majority of these visas going to nationals from Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. This represents a doubling of the figures from the previous year. Italy’s program appeals to a diverse group of investors, drawn by the country’s rich cultural heritage, robust economy, and strategic location in Europe.

  • Spain’s Significant Growth

Spain’s Golden Visa program also saw remarkable growth, issuing 2,462 visas, which is a 60% increase from the figures in 2021. This growth can be linked to Spain’s attractive investment opportunities, quality of life, and the advantages of being a resident in an EU country. The Spanish program is especially popular among investors looking for real estate opportunities and a gateway to Europe.

Residency vs. citizenship investment programs

  • Residency by Investment (RBI)

Residency by Investment programs, a key component of Golden Visas, offer foreign nationals the opportunity to obtain residency status in a country through significant financial investment. These investments typically take the form of real estate purchases, business investments, or contributions to government funds. The main appeal of RBI programs is the access they grant to the host country’s lifestyle, legal system, and, in many cases, the broader economic area such as the European Union. Additionally, RBI often serves as a stepping stone towards long-term residency or citizenship, but it doesn’t directly confer citizenship status.

  • Citizenship by Investment (CBI)

Citizenship by Investment programs, on the other hand, provide a more direct route to citizenship than RBI programs. CBI programs usually require a substantial financial investment, similar to RBI, but the key difference is that investors are granted citizenship, often without the need for prolonged periods of residency or physical presence in the country. This pathway offers not just residency benefits but also the legal status of citizenship, including the right to vote, work, and travel with the passport of the host country.

  • Benefits and Appeal

Both RBI and CBI programs are attractive to investors for various reasons. They offer mobility, with potential visa-free travel to numerous countries, security and stability, especially for investors from politically unstable regions, and access to favorable tax regimes and business opportunities. Furthermore, these programs can provide a quality of life and education benefits for investors’ families.

  • Scrutiny and Challenges

Despite their benefits, Golden Visa programs have faced scrutiny and criticism. Concerns have been raised about their potential misuse for unlawful activities such as money laundering, corruption, and tax evasion. The lack of stringent background checks and the opacity in some of these programs have led to fears that they could be exploited by individuals seeking to hide illicit funds or evade legal consequences.

  •  Impact on Immigration Policies

As a result of these concerns, some countries have started to reevaluate their RBI and CBI programs. The European Union, in particular, has expressed apprehension about the potential security risks and the undermining of the integrity of EU citizenship. This has led to increased regulatory oversight, stricter due diligence processes, and, in some cases, the termination or scaling back of these programs.

Concerns and controversies 

These programs have faced criticism for reportedly allowing individuals involved in unlawful activities, such as money laundering and corruption, to benefit from them. This has led several countries to terminate their programs.

With the future of golden visas in limbo, there’s a growing interest in alternative options like digital nomad visas. These visas allow individuals to legally stay in a country and work for companies or clients located elsewhere.

Program terminations and adjustment 

  • The Cyprus Case: The Impact of Investigative Reporting

Cyprus’s Golden Visa Program came under intense international scrutiny following Al Jazeera’s investigative report, “The Cyprus Papers.” This exposé revealed several instances of illegal activities, including the circumvention of standard legal processes and the granting of visas to individuals with criminal backgrounds. The revelations led to a public outcry and significant pressure on the Cypriot government, ultimately resulting in the termination of the program. This case highlighted the vulnerabilities in the due diligence processes of Golden Visa programs and raised questions about their transparency and integrity.

  •  Ireland’s Shift in Policy

In February of the current year, Ireland made a significant move by announcing the termination of its Investor Visa Program. This decision was influenced by broader considerations of national policy and the desire to realign its immigration and investment strategies. The termination reflects a growing trend among European nations to scrutinize and reevaluate the impact of such programs on their economies and societies.

  • Investors Seeking Alternatives

The changes in Ireland and Portugal’s policies have prompted investors, especially those from the United States, to redirect their focus towards other European countries still offering Golden Visa programs, such as Greece and Spain. These countries are now seen as attractive alternatives due to their continued open stance towards foreign investment through residency programs.


The future of the Golden Visa programs in Europe remains uncertain. While they offer significant benefits to investors and the host countries, the associated risks and controversies cannot be overlooked. As the landscape evolves, potential investors and countries alike must navigate these changes cautiously.

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