IMI continually scours official sources for information on the world’s Golden Visa and Citizenship by Investment programs and adds data as they are published to the IMI Data Center. The various programs’ reporting schedules and formats are highly heterogenous and there’s often inconsistencies in the timing and manner of disclosure even within individual programs. Many programs, of course, release no statistics at all.
This inconsonance means that complete statistical sets necessary for program-by-program, year-by-year comparisons usually only become available 12-18 months after the end of the periods in question. Nearly five months into 2022, we have full-year 2021 data for only about half of the major RCBI programs we track. See the table below to understand what data we have available for 2021 so far.
As is apparent from the chart, residence by investment program figures are typically more readily available at an earlier stage than citizenship by investment data. Now in the middle of May 2022, we have sufficient data to provide a preliminary overview (data on certain programs will be subject to minor changes as complete data becomes available) of which golden visa programs approved the most applications in 2021. For a minority of programs, for which full-year data is not yet available, we have provided qualified estimates and explained our reasoning. This is imperfect, but the alternative would be to wait until 2023 to report full-year 2021 figures for all programs.
The Top 10
#10 - The Ireland IIP
Main applicant approvals in 2021: 265
In its tenth year of operations, Ireland's Immigrant Investor Program approved 265 applications, practically the same number as the year before (270) and its third-best year ever. That sufficed to make the program the sixth European member of the exclusive Billion-Euro Golden Visa Club.
#9 - The UK Investor Visa Program
Main applicant approvals in 2021: 300
The UK Investor Visa's last year was marked by a 39% improvement in approval volume. Home Secretary Priti Patel unceremoniously discontinued the program earlier this year on rather flimsy pretexts.
#8 - Malta Permanent Residency Program
Main applicant approvals in 2021: 500
While posting a record year of 988 main applicant approvals in 2020, the MPRP saw its approval volume drop by nearly half in 2021, a drop the program's administration attributes to the disruptions caused by the transition from the previous Malta Residency Visa Program to the new Malta Permanent Residency Program.
#7 - Portugal Golden Visa
Main applicant approvals in 2021: 865
While coasting through the pandemic year of 2020, logging nearly as many approvals as in 2019, Portugal saw a significant decline in approvals in 2021, as volume fell from 1,182 to 865. The program has been off to a good start in 2022, however; if the first third of the year is anything to go by, Portugal will approve more than 1,100 applicants this year.
#6 - Greece Golden Visa
Main applicant approvals in 2021: 1,035
Greek golden visa approval volumes recovered notably in 2021 after experiencing an 88% reduction during 2020, a year during most of which closed borders prevented a sizeable chunk of investors from finalizing their applications.
#5 - South Korea Golden Visa
Main applicant approvals in 2021: 1,438 (estimate)
How we arrived at the South Korea Golden Visa approval volume estimate:
The South Korean statistical service publishes laudably detailed and frequent (monthly) statistics on the country's investor visa approvals but at a significant delay; by May 2022, monthly statistics are only available for the first ten months of 2021. To estimate a full-year figure for 2021, we have assumed that application volume in the last two months of the year remained consistent with the volume of the first ten months. The confirmed approval volume in the first ten months was 1,198, which, if linearly extrapolated, would indicate South Korea approved 1,438 investor visas last year.
#4 - US EB-5 Program
Main applicant approvals in 2021: 2,398
The figures relate to the US government's fiscal year 2021, which ended on September 30th, 2021. For the purposes of this comparison, main applicant approvals are defined as the number of form I-526 approvals during the fiscal year.
#3 - Spain Golden Visa
Main applicant approvals in 2021: 2,507 (estimate)
How we arrived at the Spain Golden Visa approval volume estimate:
The Spanish government provides two key figures on its golden visa program: The number of applications approved in each calendar year - the flujo (flow), typically published only in December of the next year - and the total number of currently valid (en vigor) golden visas. The difference between the two sets of figures is owed to the temporary nature of golden visas; most investors stay on the golden visa for five years, at which point they obtain permanent status, removing them from the en vigor pool.
Though we now know the total number of currently-valid investor visas in Spain at the end of 2021, we don't yet know how many new applications were approved during that year because those figures will only become available in December. We can, however, make a qualified assumption of the number of new approvals in 2021 (the flujo) by assuming that the already-confirmed percentage increase in currently-valid golden visas between 2020 and 2021 applied in more or less equal measure to the flujo. Our figure will not be 100% correct but it will not be far off either.
The number of currently-active golden visas in Spain had risen from 6,360 at the end of 2021 to 7,425 by December 31st, 2021, a 16.7% increase. The number of approved golden visas in 2020 was 2,148. Assuming the approval volume saw a similar rate of growth as the number of currently-valid golden visas, we estimate that Spain approved a total of about 2,507 golden visas in 2021.
#2 - Australia BIIP
Main applicant approvals in 2021: 4,479
Approvals under the Australia Business Innovation and Investment Program, which encompasses five different kinds of investment-based visa categories, grew by 153% in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which ended on June 30th last year. The sharp increase was a result of both uncharacteristically low approval volumes during FY2020 and the government's decision to nearly double the available quota of BIIP visas from previous years. The main applicant approval figure assumes an average family-size of 2.5 (Australia's published BIIP visa approval volume for 2021 includes both main applicants and dependents).
#1 - Panama investor visa programs
Main applicants approvals in 2021: 4,659
Panama has more than a dozen investment-based visa categories. Rather than counting each individually, we have aggregated approval volumes for each of Panama's investor visas, counting them together as subcategories of a broader Panamanian golden visa program.
- New Zealand Investor Visas (category I and II): 51 main applicants in 2021
- Italy Investor Visa (the "Dolce Visa"): 40 applications in 2021
- Latvia Golden Visa: 14 approved main applicants in the first half of 2021.
If you like data-driven articles like this one, you'll love the IMI Data Center, the world's largest collection of investment migration statistics.
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.