Not all application processes for investor visas are alike. Different countries’ schemes can – and do – operate on very different terms. As a route to securing residential status, however, for those who have the means, investment commitments represent a relatively streamlined and straightforward process offering consistently high approval ratios. But it is important to note that different countries’ mechanisms entail very different levels of financial commitment.
For example, Cyprus is one of the most affordable countries in Europe for residency. Residency visas are available subject to a EUR 300,000 investment in real estate on the island plus a deposit in a Cypriot bank account. This is considerably less than the equivalent amount required, for example, by the UK’s immigration authorities (see below). In terms of full Cypriot citizenship, Citizenship by Investment represents the means to establish full EU citizenship rights, but its terms are more costly.
In March 2014 the Cypriot government amended its regulations regarding Citizenship by Investment with the effect that anyone investing EUR 2.5 million in Cyprus – providing they meet certain other criteria – will be automatically eligible for full citizenship. Under the scheme, full passports are issued in approximately 90 days. Those passports give citizens the right to work, study, travel and reside anywhere within the EU, including the UK, and spouses, and financially dependent children under 28 may also be granted citizenship under this scheme.
When these schemes are set against the equivalent mechanisms elsewhere their relative merits are easy to grasp. For example, in the UK the key requirement for a Tier 1 investment visa is to invest a minimum of £2 million (EUR 2.78 million). Funds may be invested in UK government bonds, share capital or loan capital in UK registered companies. Unlike Cyprus, where there is a relatively free choice of investment opportunities, investment in property or property-related companies is not permitted under the scheme.
Significantly, the Tier 1 Investment visa will initially only entitle applicants to a maximum of three years and four months’ UK residence with the option to extend that by means of an extension visa once certain criteria are satisfied.
Approvals in the UK for Tier 1 Investment Visas are typically approved within three weeks. Tier 1 investment visas also come with the added benefits of having no age restriction, no educational requirement and no language requirements. But they are a long way short of offering the sort of rights that are available in Cyprus.
When compared against each other (and always remembering that there are similar alternative schemes across the continent) it is clear that there are considerable differences between nations. And this discussion does not consider factors such as the relative stability of either UK economy or the Cypriot property market – neither of which is absolute. Current political debates carry the possibility that the relative value of a UK passport – as compared with a Cypriot one – may rise or fall. The merits of each requires careful and informed comparison.