scorecardWealthy Americans are racing to get the EU's last remaining 'golden passport' before it's gone
  1. Home
  2. life
  3. news
  4. Wealthy Americans are racing to get the EU's last remaining 'golden passport' before it's gone

Wealthy Americans are racing to get the EU's last remaining 'golden passport' before it's gone

Hannah Towey   

Wealthy Americans are racing to get the EU's last remaining 'golden passport' before it's gone
LifeThelife3 min read
Luxury yachts docked at the Kalkara marina in Malta, a small island nation located off the coast of Italy.    Holger Leue/Getty Images
  • For the first time, Americans are applying for "golden passports" more than any other nationality.
  • That's according to Henley & Partners, who saw a 447% increase in US enquiries from 2019.

For some ultra-wealthy individuals, the most powerful asset money can buy isn't a superyacht or private jet — it's a passport.

"Golden passports," formally known as citizenship by investment programs, allow wealthy foreigners to receive citizenship in exchange for investing a certain amount of money in a country, often by purchasing real estate. Their less-advantageous sibling, "golden visas," provide temporary residence permits in exchange for investment, as opposed to permanent citizenship.

For the first time, Americans are applying for golden passports and visas more than any other nationality, according to Henley & Partners' 2023 USA Wealth Report, released Thursday. Historically, the programs have been dominated by Chinese and Russian nationals.

The record number of American applicants is the result of high-net-worth individuals "future-proofing their American lives" amid inflation, social and political unrest, and a shrinking middle class in the US, global investment expert and financial writer Jeff D. Opdyke, said in the report.

"We see these programs as an insurance policy," Ezzedeen Soleiman, a managing partner at Latitude Residency & Citizenship, an investor immigration firm, told Insider in May. "We've had some billionaires approach us and ask what's the best place to live if there's a climate catastrophe, or if there's another storm, or another global pandemic."

Options for Americans looking to build their passport collections are quickly dwindling

Peter Thiel
Silicon Valley investor and former Trump adviser Peter Thiel is in the process of applying for a Maltese passport, The New York Times reported in October.      Alex Wong/Getty Images

On Thursday, Portugal announced it will no longer be accepting new applications to its golden visa program, a decision Prime Minister António Costa said will help "fight against price speculation in real estate" as the country combats a housing crisis. Henley & Partners ranked Portugal's program as the most popular offering among its American clientele.

Just three days earlier, Ireland also shuttered its golden visa program. Last year, 282 of 306 applications came from Chinese citizens, with only 10 US applications, The Irish Times reported.

Malta is currently the only country in the EU that still has a citizenship-by-investment scheme based on pre-determined payments or investments without a "genuine link" to the country, such as long-term residence, according to the European Commission.

This is not including Austria's citizenship act, which allows the government to grant citizenship to high-net-worth foreigners of "extraordinary merit" who invest an estimated $9.5 million directly into the Austrian economy.

Henley & Partners' Head of North America Mehdi Kadiri said Malta's golden passport scheme was the second-most sought-after program among Americans, in part because Malta's program is accessible through real estate investment.

"International real estate has always been a reliable asset class for global investors due to its long-term staying power," Kadiri said, adding that holding multiple passports creates "optionality in terms of where you and your family can live, work, study, retire, and invest."

Malta's program, which has been riddled with scandal, has attracted the likes of billionaire Silicon Valley investor and former Trump adviser Peter Thiel, as The New York Times first reported in October. But if the EU has its way, it may not be around for much longer.

Eric Schmidt
Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt reportedly applied for European citizenship in 2020 through Cyprus' now-defunct golden passport program.      REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

In September, the European Commission referred the Maltese government to the EU Court of Justice, arguing that the golden passport scheme poses a security risk for the entire union.

Being a citizen in an EU member state like Malta opens up a number of privileges, including free movement through 27 countries, voting rights, and access to internal EU markets. Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, golden passports and visas faced global scrutiny for allowing sanctioned oligarchs access to the UK.

This set off a series of program closures, including the UK, Bulgaria, and Cyprus. But despite insistent demands from the EU, Malta has so far refused to follow suit.

In order to receive citizenship through Malta's golden passport program, applicants must invest between €590,000 and €740,000 (depending if you have resided in the country for more or less than 36 months); purchase real estate worth at least €700,000 or pay rent of at least €16,000 per year (for five years); donate an additional €10,000; and pay a total of €26,500 in non-refundable deposits and fees.