Not since 2005 has South Korea approved more investor visas than it did last year, data released this week reveal. In 2021, fully 1,407 main applicants received investment-based visas, a figure that surpasses last the 1,351 approvals observed in 2020, itself a record year.
South Korea's golden visa - officially the Immigrant Investor Scheme for Public Business - offers a path to permanent residency and citizenship in, respectively, five and six years in exchange for what effectively amounts to a five-year, zero-interest loan of roughly US$220,000 to a sovereign fund. The principal amount is returned without interest after five years. Those investing five times that amount are eligible for immediate permanent residency.
Historically, Japanese and Chinese investors have been the dominant applicant group, together accounting for some 43% of approvals since the year 2000. In 2021, Japanese and Chinese investors numbered, respectively, 397 (28% of the total) and 275 (20%). In 2021, however, it is the Indian investor contingent that stands out; total approved investor visas for Indian nationals amounted to 119, a 75% increase compared to 2020 and a 250% expansion since 2019.
South Korea also imposes lower minimum investment migration requirements for older applicants (those 55 years or older need only invest US$220,000 while those under must allocate at least US$385,000), a practice that's counter-intuitive considering the country's fertility crisis and attendant demographic crisis: With only an expected 0.84 children per woman, South Korea has the world's lowest fertility rate.
South Korea's program also distinguishes itself from most golden visas in that the applicant nationality profile is decidedly Western: Among the top-ten investor source countries, half are OECD members (Japan, France, US, Germany, and UK).
All told, close to 22,000 main applicants have been approved during the 22-year period for which records are available.
Christian Henrik Nesheim is the founder and editor of Investment Migration Insider, the #1 magazine - online or offline - for residency and citizenship by investment. He is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, documentary producer, and writer on the subject of investment migration, whose work is cited in the Economist, Bloomberg, Fortune, Forbes, Newsweek, and Business Insider. Norwegian by birth, Christian has spent the last 16 years in the United States, China, Spain, and Portugal.