Controversial golden visas are proving a huge draw to Europe for wealthy expat investors.
The visas allow foreigners to buy the right to live in one of several European Union countries.
Many claim the visas are honey pots to lure rich business people from other countries, while others view them as tools to encourage investment from overseas.
Several EU countries offer special terms to wealthy investors – the so-called golden visas.
They include Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Malta.
The rules vary between each country, but generally the visa swaps a residency visa for an investment in property and/or business.
Most investors buy homes
The Spanish scheme has seen 2,236 investors from outside the EU invest. To qualify they must sink at least 2 million euros in treasury bonds, or one million in shares or savings or 500,000 euros in a home.
The visa has raised 2.16 billion euros, with almost three-quarters going into property.
The Spanish government says the scheme has led to issuing 25,000 visas during the past three years.
Almost two out of three visas go to a Russian or Chinese investor.
The most popular places for foreigners to relocate are Barcelona, Malaga, Madrid and Alicante.
In Portugal, the government has issued around 4,000 golden visas and seen 1.5 billion euros invested in property since 20112. The last figures for Malta issued in 2016, showed 1,000 passports were issued to investors.
Inflated prices and freedom to travel
The Greek scheme is among the least popular due to uncertainty over the nation’s economic future within the Eurozone.
In Cyprus, property investment by the Chinese soared by 350% last year. The golden visa requires a 2 million euro total investment including at least 500,000 euros in a home.
Developers claim Chinese estate agents are asking them to inflate the price of a home to cover their commission – only for buyers to find the property has dropped in price when they come to sell because the hike is no longer included.
Governments also claim many wealthy foreigners do not take up residence, but only visit their new home when they need to retain their visa.
Expats also opt for a country offering passports rather than visas as they can then live and move wherever they wish in Europe. Malta is one country offering this service.