Brexit could push Chinese ‘cash for visa’ investors to Ireland

English-speaking gateway to the EU popular with very wealthy investors – report

Brexit could prompt wealthy Chinese citizens to invest up to €65 million extra in the Republic under the Government’s cash for visas scheme, experts claim.

Under the Government’s Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP), which raised €826 million between 2012 and 2019, non-EU citizens and their families can secure the right to live in the Republic in return for investing €1 million in companies operating in specified industries, or donating six-figure sums to charity.

Asian property-dealing giant Juwai IQI says Brexit could prompt increasing numbers of Chinese citizens seeking EU residency to apply for Irish visas under the programme, generating an extra €65 million under the scheme this year.

The IIP is most popular with Chinese citizens. By the end of 2019, 1,088 Chinese citizens had put up to €1 million each into social housing, nursing homes, healthcare and other projects, according to official figures.

"Under our best case, Ireland would see more than 90 additional applicants," Juwai IQI executive chairman Georg Chmiel said. The organisation calculates that as translating into an extra €65 million in investment and charitable donations this year over 2020.

“Chinese investors who want an English-speaking gateway to the EU can no longer obtain that in the UK,” Mr Chmiel said.

He adds that, should their children get Irish citizenship – although the IIP scheme only guarantees residency rights – they could also go on to live and work in the UK.

Juwai believes that the IIP has boosted the number of rich people living in the State. A report from the company quotes real estate player Knight Frank’s calculation that the number of high-net-worth individuals living here grew 22 per cent to 239,466 from 195,554 in the five years to 2020.

There were 2,560 ultra-wealthy people living here last year, a 26 per cent jump on 2015, it said.

"Since Knight Frank looks at population rather than nationality, it is clear a large portion of those high-net-worth individuals are investors who came to Irish shores through the IIP," Juwai said.

Luring investment

Irish agents who work with visa applicants believe Brexit will boost interest in it in China and other nations, particularly the US, whose citizens are also likely to favour English-speaking countries.

Twenty-one US citizens had used the Irish scheme by the end of 2019, making them the second biggest group from a total of 1,166.

The Department of Justice administers the scheme, which the then government launched at the low point of a recession in 2012 to lure investment to the Republic.

Of the total €826.5 million raised to the end of 2019, €249 million went to building social housing, €165 million to nursing homes and €108 million to hospitality and tourism businesses.

Although these three industries accounted for more than half of all investments, the department said earlier this year that an independent evaluation committee considers projects across a range of areas “which are aligned with Government policy”.

Investors must be “of good character” and have a net worth of at least €2 million to qualify.