Several hundred wealthy Chinese citizens are seeking Irish residency under an investment scheme for millionaire immigrants, after applications surged amid speculation the Government was scrapping the programme.
The number of Chinese people seeking such investments has more than trebled since the start of the year to 785. The rise is seen as a sign of anxiety among potential applicants that a formal review could lead to the scheme’s closure.
The Department of Justice declined to set out any review recommendations but speculation that the programme will be wound down completely is now considered inaccurate. The scheme is more likely to be refined, although the scope of and timing for any changes remain unclear.
Still, three people familiar with the programme said talk about a prospective closure of the scheme circulated in recent months among professional brokers who advise applicants. One broker said a Hong Kong security crackdown after pro-democracy protests had prompted increased interest in the Irish scheme among wealthy people there.
The Immigrant Investor Programme provides residency in the State to people outside the European Economic Area (EEA) with “at least €2 million” in personal wealth. They are required to invest a minimum of €1 million for three years in an approved Irish company or investment fund and cannot use borrowed funds. The EEA is made up of the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
Some €1.18 billion has been raised from 1,613 participants since the scheme started 10 years ago but details of individual investments are not published.
Department data shows an acceleration in Chinese interest between January and September as total applications from all countries rose to a record 812. The highest number of global applications in any previous year was 435 in 2019.
The 785 Chinese applications made in the first nine months of the year were more than three times the 243 received in all of last year.
The Government granted 193 Chinese applications in the nine months to September, compared with 251 last year. Approvals can relate to applications made in previous years because of the time taken to process them.
Previous moves to tighten the programme led to greater international tax scrutiny of applicants and measures to improve the authentication of identity documents.
Although the department said the latest review “has been completed”, it declined to discuss the findings, saying this “would not be appropriate” while the matter was still under consideration.
The total raised in the first nine months of this year from the scheme was €132.1 million, compared to €185.7 million last year.
The scheme is not limited to €1 million investments. Investments of a minimum of €2 million in Irish real estate investment trusts are allowed, as well as €500,000 endowments for education, arts, sport, health or culture.
The number of Chinese applications is far greater than from any other country.
In January-September, there were 12 US applications, with six granted. There were five US applications last year but none were approved.
There were only 15 applications in the first nine months from the rest of the world and 10 in 2021. Eight such applications were granted this year and 15 last year. The Government, for privacy reasons, does not publicly quantify applications from any country if there are fewer than five in a year.