Europe has been once a favorite immigration destination for the Chinese wealthy people. But this route is gradually narrowing, with obstacles mounting from both sides.
In Europe, Portugal is a good place for the rich Chinese to escape from the local authorities’ suffocating Covid pandemic lockdown and political tensions.
Mild weather, a laid-back and affordable lifestyle, and an investor visa that allows the entire EU entry, all are for just 350,000 euros ($358,400).
Those advantages have attracted thousands of Chinese over the past decade. That wave hit its peak in 2014 when Portugal received $1 billion in investment funds.
But eight years on, the wave is fading.
According to an analysis, this is not because Portugal’s Golden Visa program lacks demand. On the contrary, when China’s zero-Covid policy weakens its economy, more rich Chinese people look for ways to leave the country, or at least devise such a backup plan.
Henley & Partners, an investment immigration consultancy firm, estimates that 10,000 high-net-asset residents are seeking to withdraw $48 billion from China this year. In the past, some have used the Golden Visa program as a way of escape.
Indeed, there are now more and more obstacles from both governments. The EU has become increasingly clear about tightening its residency and citizenship by investment programs.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is now warning that the union’s values “are not for sale”.
Following the EU scrutiny, Cyprus and Malta have canceled their Golden Visa schemes, but 10 member countries offer such schemes in some forms.
Portugal requires in-person interviews in its application process, but China’s Covid travel restrictions make this nearly impossible.
These pressures have left China’s richest people with fewer and fewer options. In 2022, the Chinese wealthy are no longer the largest group to obtain Portugal’s Golden Visas.
When Portugal started its Golden Visa program a decade ago, it was working to repair its public finances system. One part of the program is to privatize state-owned enterprises. The combined result was the largest wave of Chinese investment in the country.
Chinese rich investors have snapped up stakes in Portugal’s energy, healthcare, finance, construction and airlines companies. Official data shows that Portugal has issued around 10,000 investment visas since 2012, most of them to Chinese nationals.
Portugal granted residency in exchange for applicants with a minimum real estate investment of 350,000 euros ($358,400) or a local approved venture fund of 500,000 euros. As the lowest investment requirement in Europe after Greece, this is often used as a springboard for EU citizenship.
According to the Portuguese Immigration Service, so far this year, only 16% of successful applicants in Portugal are Chinese, down from 81% in 2014.
This year, Portugal has restricted its Golden Visa program in Lisbon, Porto and high-density coastal areas.
Alexandra Victoria-Bonte is co-founder of Lisbon-based One Stop Properties. She said that Portugal was forced to change the rules because many investors put properties on online marketplace Airbnb or left them vacant. This raises concerns about the impact on local communities and housing affordability. This raises concerns about the impact on local communities and housing affordability. Especially in Lisbon, many locals are ostracized by foreigners.
According to property consultancy Savills, the Golden Visas now account for only 3% of property transactions in Portugal.
That figure indicates that Portugal’s enthusiasm for Chinese investors has weakened considerably.