Spain Cans its Golden Visa Program

The government decided to end the program because of its impact on the country’s housing crisis.

Photo of a street in Sevilla, Spain
Photo by Harrison Fitts via Unsplash

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All that’s gold does not glitter. Nor does it provide residency.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Monday the country would start unwinding its “golden visa” program that has been in place for 11 years. This comes after its Iberian neighbor Portugal watered down its program, and as the wider European Union has placed pressure on some Caribbean countries with similar programs to restrict who can acquire a passport that grants free travel inside the EU.

The Spanish Visa Inquisition

Golden visa programs, sometimes known as citizenship-by-investment (CBI), work like this: Invest a certain amount of money in a country, and it grants you a special visa. Some programs include “golden passports” — as soon as you get your visa, you’re a citizen of that country. However, Spain’s program required 10 years of residency before you could snap up a Spanish passport.

Spain’s golden visa program allowed prospective non-EU applicants to invest a minimum €500,000 into the country’s real estate. Alternatively, they could invest a cool €1 million into a Spanish company, or simply deposit that amount into a Spanish bank. The problem for Spain and Portugal is that the programs became associated with housing crises for citizens already there:

  • Both countries have suffered particularly bad spikes in housing prices, and both have a deficit of publicly funded housing.“We will take the necessary measures to ensure that housing is a right and not just a speculative business,” Sánchez said on Monday.
  • Sánchez added that the vast majority of golden visa applicants used the real estate route. “Today, 94 out of every 100 such visas are linked to real estate investment […] in major cities that are facing a highly stressed market and where it’s almost impossible to find decent housing for those who already live, work and pay their taxes there,” he said, per Reuters.

The Irish Exit: While Spain and Portugal are responding to housing issues, the wider EU concern is more focused on security. Ireland shuttered its Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP) in February last year after a surge of Chinese investors applied for it. The UK, a former EU member, also ended a CBI program in 2022, announcing the program’s demise was part of a “renewed crackdown on illicit finance and fraud,” though it was widely perceived as trying to stop wealthy Russian investors from buying their way into the UK.