World’s Biggest Golden Visa: Greece Now Issues More Investor Visas Than US EB-5

For the first time since 2011, the US EB-5 program is no longer the world’s biggest issuer of residence by investment visas. After seeing application volumes for its golden visa nearly triple in just two years, Greece now grants more investor visas than any other country.

— The below charts are all interactive —

Official Greek figures show that 9,756 individuals received residence permits through the country’s golden visa program between January 1st and November 30th, 2018. Even with a month to spare, the Greek 2018 figure has already surpassed the US EB-5’s 9,602 conditional green cards issued in fiscal year 2018.

How did a country of 11 million people become the undisputed golden visa gold medalist?

First, while the EB-5 is disadvantaged by an upper limit of 10,000 individual visas (main applicants and family members combined) a year, Greece has no such cap. An EB-5 program without a ceiling would likely see at least twice as many conditional green cards issued every year. For evidence of this, look no further than the program’s behemoth backlog, which has driven wait-times for certain countries to as much as 15 years. The so-called “retrogression” problem has afflicted Chinese nationals and, indeed, that very demographic group has played an instrumental role in the rise of Greece’s program.

Read also: Chinese Share of EB-5 Program Falls by 45% ’18, Lowest in 10 Years

Second, the US EB-5 visa requires a minimum investment of US$500,000 – which must be at risk – while Greece asks for only EUR 250,000, typically spent acquiring real estate which remains historically cheap in Greece (still 40% below its 2009 peak), not only compared to American housing prices but also to that of other European countries with golden visa programs.

Read also: Portugal, Spain, Greece: A Statistical Comparison of Golden Visa Rivals

Third, Greece is a member of both the EU and Schengen, which means a residence permit in the country comes with visa-free travel throughout Europe, and also that continued residence in the country for a number of years could lead to EU citizenship and the settlement rights thereto pertaining.

EB-5 still the biggest money-maker

While Greece may have surpassed the US EB-5 in terms of the number of visas issued, the Americans still retain their edge with regards to total program-derived FDI, thanks to their higher price point; While the Greek program saw a capital influx of some 1.1 billion euros during the period – and keep in mind that December figures for Greece are as yet unpublished – the EB-5 program raised some 1.4 billion euros (about US$1.6bn) in fiscal year 2018.

But the Greek residence by investment program may soon take the lead also on this metric; participants in the scheme invest, on average, EUR 300,000 – 20% more than they strictly need to – and application numbers have soared each year since the program opened in 2013. The number of golden visas issued in 2018 (again, not even counting December) was 45% higher than the year before, which was 63% higher than the year before that.

Other contenders

As concerns golden visa programs, Greece and the US now find themselves in a class of their own. A distant third in 2018, Portugal – until very recently the unrivaled golden visa champion of Europe – issued 3,909 residence permits to investors and their dependents. Although 2018 figures for the Quebec IIP – which has a quota of 1,900 main applicants a year and a typical family size of two – will have issued an estimated 3,800 visas last year.

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