Residency for sale

Photo: ebolavir.
Photo: ebolavir.

The investor visa has been a popular way for Western countries to attract foreign capital. In exchange for a substantial chunk of change, individual investors can obtain permanent residency and a path to citizenship for themselves and their family members. North American, Australian, or European permanent residency can be highly valuable for wealthy citizens of developing countries. For example, Chinese passport holders with US permanent residency enjoy the privilege of visa free entry to a number of countries that otherwise require visas for Chinese citizens. US permanent residents and citizens also have preference in admission to many US universities.

The amount of capital required to “buy” permanent residency in the West is generally quite high. Under the US EB-5 visa scheme, a foreign investor may get permanent residency in exchange for a $1 million investment, or a $500,000 investment in a rural or high-unemployment area. This is significantly more generous than equivalent schemes in other English-speaking countries of immigration. New Zealand requires a NZD 1.5 million (USD 1.28 million) minimum investment, while the United Kingdom wants GBP 1 million (USD 1.68 million) and Australia a whopping AUD 5 million (USD 4.62 million). None of these schemes grant permanent residency automatically.

I became aware of Portugal’s unique investor visa scheme through my Tumblr, migrantography. User ebolavir posted a photo of a storefront in Lisbon with signage in Chinese and English advertising the Golden Residence Permit. In exchange for a EUR 500,000 (USD 682,000) real estate investment, the investor gets a Portuguese residence permit that can be converted to permanent residency and citizenship. As Portugal is part of the Schengen Zone, permit holders could travel, live, and work freely in much of continental Europe.

While the doors to the US, Australia, and Europe are open to wealthy foreigners, they are ever more firmly shut for foreigners without means. Deportations, border fences, and militarized intimidation of land crossers and boat people keep out the needy, while investor schemes and student migration pathways draw in the wealthy. Give me not your tired, your poor, and your huddled masses, but your talented and your moneyed elite.

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2 thoughts on “Residency for sale

  1. Hi Calvin!

    You make a very interesting point. National discourse has recently focused much more on the expansion of professional categories, that is, “non-immigrant” and “immigrant” high-skilled individuals and investors, at the expense of traditional family-based migration categories. However, the EB-5 program does provide ten net new jobs for documented workers in the U.S. within the first two years of having invested the capital, and many areas have benefited from the increased liquidity and job opportunities that these investors bring. I think the real problem is that these funds are not always used in the most appropriate manner (interesting article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/19/nyregion/new-york-developers-take-advantage-of-financing-for-visas-program.html?pagewanted=all), because states’ labor departments actively create ridiculous zones in order to include developed, high-income areas (those that would attract capital and skilled labor in the first place) into “high-unemployment” targeted zones.

    If anything, more scrutiny should be placed on investor visas that do not give you a green card, namely, the vastly more popular E-2s. E-2s require business plans and sales projections, but do not require investors to initially place their capital at risk, nor do they require the investor to create “direct new jobs” in his or her new business entity. As a result, many of these investors simply park their money in the U.S. and don’t end up having to pay taxes on income earned abroad as EB-5 investors inevitably do (EB-5 cap has never been reached, even with decreased capital requirements during the financial crisis).

    The massive deportation machine maintained by the Obama administration has failed to get the republican support he sought for immigration reform. Having said that, by the mere fact of not providing legal status to millions of migrants (who have been here for several years, and with significant ties to the community), the government is hampering their ability to get a good affordable education, to get a fair wage, and ultimately, forcing them to live in the shadows.

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