Feb 8, 2023, 12:01am EST

Ireland is uneasy over China’s ultra-rich getting most of its ‘golden visas’


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The News

Ireland’s government is worried after 97% of applicants for its “golden visa” scheme — offering ultrawealthy people permanent residency in exchange for their investment — were from China in 2022, the Irish Times reports, especially amid increasingly strained relations between the EU and China.

The situation mirrors a recent trend of megarich Chinese nationals leaving the country over zero-COVID lockdowns and Xi’s crackdown on the elite.

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The View From Ireland

Of the 1,316 applications for Ireland’s golden visa scheme last year, all but 41 were from China. (The Irish government does not differentiate between mainland China and Hong Kong applicants.) Of the 264 applications approved in 2021, 251 golden visas went to Chinese nationals.

As geopolitical tensions rise between China and the European Union, many within the Irish government see the disproportionate number of visas granted to wealthy Chinese nationals as problematic, The Irish Times reported. There are reportedly talks of halting the program altogether, or scaling it back significantly.

One person familiar with the program told the news outlet that some Chinese applicants, while prosperous, aren’t actually super-wealthy, but wanted their children to be educated at English-language universities.


“These are all high-net-worth individuals. They want the right, the ability, to go to another country if the regime turns against them. It’s like an insurance policy,” a source in Dublin told The Irish Times.

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The View From Portugal

Portugal remains one of the most popular golden visa destinations for Chinese nationals, but 2022 saw U.S. citizens overtake Chinese applicants for the first time since the program was launched in 2012.

Last year, 1,281 visas were issued , according to government data, of which 216 went to Americans and 213 went to Chinese nationals. Compare this to 2014, when 80% of visas went to Chinese applicants, while no visas were given to U.S. citizens.

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The View From Greece

Greece has also historically been a top golden visa destination for wealthy Chinese nationals. As of 2022, Chinese citizens still make up the majority of golden visa holders — about 63% — although the number dropped last year, government data shows.

In 2022, there were a total of 6,646 golden visa holders -- both with newly-issued and renewed visas -- from China, while in 2021, there were 6,734. It’s possible that some visa holders obtained citizenship, but the slight drop in Chinese golden visa holders last year is noteworthy considering Greece issued a total of 2,767 new golden visas in 2022.

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The View From Singapore

While Singapore does not issue golden visas, it has emerged as a hotspot for wealthy Chinese investors.

Chinese residents in recent years have begun setting up “family offices” in the island state: Essentially private estates that handle investments, taxation, and other financial matters for the wealthy and provide a pathway to permanent residency, and eventually, citizenship.

The number of registered offices surged from about 400 to 700 in 2021, according to Singapore’s Economic Development Board, with the vast majority reportedly from Chinese investors.

Reuters reported that the figure would likely be higher in 2022, citing sources who said they were receiving weekly calls from Chinese investors looking to set up a family office in Singapore.

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Step Back

In recent years, China’s elite have worried about Xi Jinping’s tightening grip on public affairs and the possibility of an explicit wealth tax, the Financial Times reported.

Xi has long promoted the tax as part of his “common prosperity” economic model, and he doubled down on his ambitions after being reappointed as general secretary of the Communist Party last year.

But many wealthy Chinese have also cited their country’s handling of the COVID pandemic, particularly zero-COVID measures, as one of the primary reasons for wanting to leave.