Selling golden visas to wealthy investors has taken over as one of the major money spinners for the government on Cyprus.
The European Union country has controversially offered visas for cash to mainly rich Russian expats for some time.
But the government has just revealed that the scheme raised more than 4 billion euros last year, which amounts to 25% of the Mediterranean nation’s GDP.
Under the rules of the Cyprus scheme, an expat has to buy property worth 2 million euros or invest 2.5 million euros in government bonds or a company to gain a residency permit.
The permits also extend to the expat’s family and can result in citizenship.
Where the money goes
Cyprus Finance Minister Harris Georgiades disclosed the government has handed out more than 2,000 passports under the scheme – with half reportedly going to Russians.
The Cyprus golden visa is the most successful of those operated within the EU.
Spain, Portugal and Greece all run similar schemes.
In Greece, the golden visa was worth 2.8 billion euros last year, but that represents only 1.5% of GDP compared to the massive slice of Cyprus national income the scheme generated.
Greece has issued 1,573 residence visas. Around 665 went to wealthy Chinese expats and 350 to Russians.
Portugal has raised around 1.55 billion euros and issued more than 2,700 visas. One in eight have gone to Chinese investors.
In Spain, around 2,250 investors have ploughed 2.16 billion euros into property or treasury bonds.
In common with schemes in other countries, most go to Russian or Chinese expats.
The benefits of golden visas are not the same in all EU countries.
Some offer residency advantages, but a few, such as the one available in Malta, comes with a passport that allows unhindered travel within the EU.
Many governments also complain that expats do not move into their new homes, but only pay flying visits to their new countries of residence when papers are due for renewal.
The term ‘golden visa‘ is applied to investments with benefits aimed at luring wealthy foreigners to buy property or start businesses in return for residence benefits.