Department of Justice officials have called into question a “golden visa” scheme for millionaire investors as the Government prepares to decide on the future of a programme dominated by Chinese participants.
The Immigrant Investor Programme opens residency in the State to non-Europeans with “at least €2 million” in personal wealth. They are in return required to invest €1 million in an Irish business or to make a €500,000 philanthropic donation or a €400,000 donation in certain cases.
A surge in applications came amid speculation that the Government might scrap the programme, with the stance of department officials towards it appearing to be hardening as a years-long review nears a conclusion.
The number of Chinese applications to join the programme reached 1,275 last year, far greater than levels foreseen during the autumn in advice to then minister for justice Helen McEntee. There were only 41 applications from the rest of the world, fuelling concern in the department that the scheme has skewed too heavily in favour of Chinese applicants.
The 1,316 total applications received last year was more than three times that recorded in 2019, previously the busiest year, when 435 applications were received.
[ Growing unease over Chinese domination of applications to Irish ‘golden visa’ scheme ]
The extent of any measures to pare back the scheme remains to seen but such moves could face resistance from the beneficiaries of money raised through it – some €1.17 billion – such as private companies, charities, sporting bodies and universities.
In response to questions about the programme, the department said only that such schemes were kept under review to ensure effectiveness and appropriateness. “All such issues have to be considered in the round, taking into account international and EU level developments.”
The Irish Times has established that justice officials pushed last year to suspend accepting new project applications. They also recommended the permanent closure of funding options suspended in 2016, which halted bond and mixed investments.
The call to temporarily stop applications came after Ms McEntee closed the programme to Russian nationals because of the war in Ukraine. Applications from Russia to join the scheme were relatively rare and nowhere near the numbers received for a similar UK programme, which was scrapped days before Ukraine was invaded.
The recommendation from justice officials in Dublin was framed against the backdrop of increased geopolitical tensions over the war, western friction with China and rumblings in Brussels about “serious security risks” posed by investor residence programmes.
[ Chinese interest in the ‘golden visa’ scheme surges ]
The government took steps several years ago to strengthen due diligence checks on applications and to enhance the authentication of identity documents.
However, the proposal to suspend applications was presented as an opening scope to reconsider the scheme’s future and examine prospective measures to widen the range of applicants. This was in addition to recommendations in a review report submitted in November 2020 to Ms McEntee, which remains unpublished.
While that approach was discussed in Government circles it was decided that still more consideration was required. Although that process is ongoing the discussions are said to be advanced with a view to reaching a conclusion soon.
“The [review] report remains under consideration within the department in conjunction with wider developments in relation to residency by investment programmes internationally and particularly at EU level,” the department said.