‘Golden visas’ usually refer to specific ‘policies developed by countries seeking to attract wealthy people to become residents or citizens’.1 Different official terminologies exist to designate these types of policies: economic citizenship programmes (ECPs), immigrant investor programmes (IIPs).

Golden visa schemes designed to attract foreign investment are found across the globe and in almost every country. Some of these schemes offer residency or citizenship rights, in exchange for sizeable investments.

RBI schemes have increased dramatically in the past decade. While countries like Australia, the United States (USA) or the United Kingdom (UK) have offered residence rights in exchange for investment since the 1980s and the 1990s, the Caribbean islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis were the first to offer citizenship rights in exchange for investment. (known as CBI scheme)

In the aftermath of the global 2007-2009 financial crisis, many countries, including in the EU, developed these schemes to boost their weakened economies. This was accompanied by a boom in businesses offering advice on the best destinations for investors. This latter aspect is developed in section

The opportunities offered by CBI schemes to wealthy individuals in particular have led to attempts to rank nationalities as regards their ‘qualities’.


The Henley & Partners/Kochenov quality of nationality index (QNI) has become a point of reference that explores the various factors that make one nationality better than another in terms of legal status, economic strength, human development, peace and stability, as well as visa-free travel and the ability to settle and work abroad without undertaking cumbersome formalities. In the latest QNI released in 2018, all the EU Member States are ranked in the top 30 most desirable citizenships around the world. The reasons why EU Member States are ranked so high include, in addition to economic prosperity and stability, the fact that EU nationalities come with the right to be welcomed by other countries and societies, i.e., they come with extra-territorial rights. The EU Member States are therefore particularly well placed in this ranking, as the nationality of an EU Member State gives its bearers full access to all EU Member States as well as all the countries of the European Economic Area.9

At EU level CBI/RBI schemes typically have the following features:

  • They are targeted at non-EU nationals;
  • They are provided by a clear, delineated process for investors to make an investment in return for residence or citizenship rights;
  • These investments can be active (for instance, they require the setting up of a business on the territory that comes with the creation of jobs), or passive (financial capital is infused into a private company with no requirement to manage the business on a day- to-day basis or it can require a minimum lump sum transferred to government bonds or the property sector);
  • They do not necessarily require applicants to spend time on the territory in which the investment is made.


Despite these common features, CBI/RBI schemes found at EU level have many specificities and vary greatly in terms of the rights granted and the requirements incumbent on the applicants. These specificities are often neglected in news reports, academic research or business firms advertising these schemes.



Table 3 – Total amount (non-exhaustive) of investment through CBI/RBI schemes in selected Member States

Member States


Total amount invested in the schemes (in €)


No data available

Cyprus – RBI

No data available

Cyprus – CBI


4 800 000 000


No data available



209 650 000


No data available



No data available

Malta – RBI

No data available

Malta – CBI


203 673 427

Portugal 122


4 004 151 395

Total (low estimation)


9 217 474 822

Source: EPRS, Authors’ summary.

Property Investment

CBI/RBI schemes also boosted property investment in Portugal and Cyprus

Table 5 – Number of property transactions

Member State

Variation in the number of property transactions, 2015-2016


+43 %


-6 %


+18 %



Source: EPRS, Authors’ calculation.