The Government’s move to abruptly shut down a scheme providing “golden” visas for millionaire immigrants came after a warning that a phased closure could prompt a flood of last-minute applications.
Amid concern in the Department of Justice about a surge in applicants from China to the Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP), the Cabinet took the unusual step on Tuesday of scrapping it with only one day’s notice.
“I have landed at the view that it is no longer appropriate to keep this scheme open,” Minister for Justice Simon Harris told the Seanad.
The decision came amid anxiety about the suitability of wealthy people with “no significant links” to the State apart from the visa scheme providing money for cultural, social and economic use.
The programme opened residency in the State to non-Europeans with “at least €2 million” in personal wealth. They were 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.
Although the Government granted a three-month grace period in limited exceptions, applications will no longer be accepted from the close of business on Wednesday.
A private briefing note for Ministers said carrying out due diligence on the escalating number of applications from one country had become “extremely difficult”. It also questioned a noticeable shift to “passive” civil society endowments, saying many involved “no investment strategy and little job creation”. Concern was also expressed about the programme having a “displacement effect” on other funding streams.
Applicants’ knowledge of the scheme flowed from “the activities of intermediary agents” advertising it, it said. Risks to public policy included international perceptions of the scheme and concern that approved schemes were seen to have received “a level of official approval”.
The scheme had raised €1.25 billion since 2012, with beneficiaries including property groups Bartra and Fitzwilliam, Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork and housing charities iCare and the Peter McVerry Trust.
The move to shut the scheme followed a recommendation from justice officials, who last year said new project applications should be stopped temporarily.
Mr Harris told the Seanad: “What motivated my decision to seek Government approval to close the IIP scheme to new applicants effective from the close of business tomorrow – the 15th of February – was very clear advice to me from the Department of Justice officials – very clear emphatic advice – that the scheme has served its purpose.”
All but 41 of the 1,316 applications to join in 2022 were from people in China, a record year for submission after speculation that the programme might be closed.
The department granted 306 applications last year, 282 of them from China, 10 from the US and 14 from the rest of the world. The previous year 251 Chinese applications were granted, and only 13 others.
The programme was introduced in 2012 during the financial crisis. Although the Mr Harris said “significant investment” was made as a result, time had moved on and the situation had changed. He said its closure would not affect existing projects or individuals already approved under the programme, adding that some 1,500 applications on hand would still be considered.
“Existing approved projects will also continue to be able to source any new investors required to complete the funding of projects already approved,” his department said. “Projects approved by the Minister are expected to be completed as soon as possible, and no later than the timeframe set out in their business plan. Short extensions of the timeframe may be granted at the discretion of the Minister.”
Projects that are “significantly developed” but without an application being formally submitted will be given three months to finalise and submit applications.