Migración Panamá approved 2,636 investor visas in 2022, figures released this week show. That represents a decline of 43% from record year 2021, a year during which investors from “friendly nations” (a list of 50 countries with which Panama maintains particularly cordial relations) scrambled to apply for Friendly Nations Visa (FNVs) ahead of a heralded increase in the minimum investment requirement (to qualify via real estate investment) from US$5,000 to US$200,000.
Though the country has operated more than a dozen different investor visas over the last decade, activity has been concentrated almost exclusively in four categories in the last several years: Beyond the extremely popular FNV, which alone accounts for nine in ten investor visas issued in Panama this year, applications were concentrated in the two Solvencia Propia investor categories (fixed deposit and real estate routes), as well as in the relatively new Qualified Investor Visa (QIV).
Asked to explain the sharp ups and downs in investor visa application volume over the last three years, Savannah Bruce of Offshore Circle, an offshore services provider based in Panama, chalks the decline in 2020 up to Covid and travel restrictions while attributing the record activity in 2021 to the rush to apply before the change in FNV terms.
Characterizing 2022 as a more normal year, she believes the decline relative to 2021 was related to the now-higher price point for the FNV and the observation that a number of individuals who had planned to wait until 2022 (or later) to apply sped up their plans and ended up applying in 2021.
Note: In the November 2022 statistical release, Migración Panamá issued a downward adjustment in the number of Fixed Deposit investor visa approvals from the previous month, reducing the figure by 25.
The high volume of last-minute filings at the end of 2021 is mirrored by the surge in approvals in January of 2022, which saw saw FNVs issued at nearly three times the average monthly rate for 2022.
"Most of our clients now pick either the QIV or FNV," says Bruce. "For many of them, though, the Qualified Investor visa makes more sense right now because it's a lot quicker and still the same price as FNV because of the extended discount."
Bruce says her clients are mostly from North America and Europe but admits the nationality mix is likely different for other firms, especially those with a focus on the QIV, which - unlike the FNV - is open to any nationality.
While investor visa approvals were down by almost half in 2022, independent means visa approvals reached historical highs. 1,414 individuals received Panama's Jubilado o Pensionado "Retirement" Visas (anyone receiving a public or private pension-like income of a certain magnitude qualifies) in 2022, the highest such number on record.
"For the Jubilados o Pensionados (independent means) visas, most applicants are also from the US, Canada, and Europe," she adds, "because this program requires a high monthly pension payment. We have seen applicants with private pensions from places like China, though."
Approval rates for both investor and independent means visas remain extraordinarily high in Panama: In 2022, 100% of fixed deposit investor visas received approvals, while the other investment-based visa categories had approval rates of at between 94% and 99%.
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