After years of indecision and delay, a Government review of the “golden visa” scheme for millionaire immigrants is nearing conclusion. Although the Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP) has brought more than ¤1 billion into the State, growing reservations about the scheme within the Department of Justice and a surge in submissions from China raise sharp questions for Ministers.
The programme offers Irish residence in exchange for investment or charitable endowment, the aim being to attract cash and boost job creation. When it was introduced in 2012, the cash-starved State was in the throes of the fiscal and banking crisis. The economy has since been transformed, with foreign direct investment the driving force behind rapid growth.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee received a review report on the scheme in November 2020 but it remains unpublished. The dynamics have changed since. The escalation in applications from China – a record 1,275 last year, with only 41 from other countries – followed speculation that the department was growing increasingly sceptical about the IIP. A call by justice officials for new project applications to be suspended reflects anxiety that the scheme, open to non-European around the world, has swung too heavily in favour of Chinese applications.
Such concerns call for serious – and timely – examination by Government, which must take account of deep doubts about such visa programmes at EU level.
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True, certain beneficiaries insist IIP money has made a critical contribution to third-level education, social housing and nursing-home provision. But a glaring lack of transparency makes it impossible to assess the scheme against the argument that the right of residence should not be a commodity for sale to wealthy people.
There is no public register of IIP funding, nothing is declared about investors and there is no clarity on commissions paid for residency deals. The stance of Justice officials, the only people in possession of key data, is instructive.