The Golden Visa Controversy: Exploring the Criticisms and Consequences

The Golden Visa Controversy: Exploring the Criticisms and Consequences

Updated: 22 March 2023
Charles Taylor Harris Executive Director

Golden visas have become a hotly debated topic in recent years as countries around the globe seek to attract wealthy investors with the promise of citizenship or residency in exchange for a significant investment. 

Proponents argue that these programs stimulate economic growth, create jobs, and attract valuable human capital. However, critics are quick to point out the potential drawbacks of these schemes, including the risk of money laundering, exacerbating wealth inequality, and facilitating corruption.

This article explores the controversy surrounding the ‘Golden Visas’ and examines the benefits of implementing these programs, as well as the potential consequences of their terminations. 

The Golden Visa: An Investment Migration Program

A Golden Visa is a type of residency or citizenship program that’s offered by several countries around the world, allowing high-net-worth individuals to obtain residency or citizenship in that country by making a certain type of investment in the host country.

Golden Visa Programs are typically designed to attract foreign direct investment and promote economic growth by offering a fast track to residency or citizenship to those who can afford to invest a significant amount of money in the country. The programs usually require a substantial investment in real estate, government bonds, or other qualifying investments, and the minimum investment amounts vary depending on the country.

The benefits of obtaining a Golden Visa include the ability to live and work in the relevant country, having access to its education and healthcare systems, and traveling freely within the European Union or other participating countries. 

Such investment migration programs are currently offered by several countries around the globe, including Portugal, Spain, Greece, Malta, Cyprus, the United States, and Canada. Each program has its own set of requirements, benefits, and drawbacks, and it’s essential for investors to carefully consider their options before making a decision.

Criticisms Targeting the Golden Visa Programs 

Critics of Golden Visa programs argue that they perpetuate inequality by giving preferential treatment to wealthy investors over other potential immigrants. There are also concerns about the potential for corruption and money laundering, in addition to the risk of tax evasion.

Some worry that these programs may not bring significant economic benefits to the countries offering Golden Visas and may even harm local communities by driving up housing prices and displacing residents. The latter concern was, in fact, specified as the reason why the Portuguese government recently announced the potential termination of the Portugal Golden Visa program. 

Finally, some critics raised concerns about the lack of transparency and oversight in these programs, as well as the potential security risks associated with granting residency or citizenship to individuals without proper background checks.

Potential Benefits of the Golden Visa Programs

Golden Visa programs have emerged as a popular mechanism to attract foreign investors and stimulate economic growth in a rapidly globalizing world. It’s apparent that they offer a range of potential benefits that go beyond economic gains.

From a standpoint regarding national and global economies, the Golden Visa programs represent a valuable source of foreign investment. By incentivizing high-net-worth individuals to invest in a country, these programs can help to fund critical projects, such as infrastructure, that may not be otherwise viable. They can create jobs, stimulate economic growth, and generate tax revenue, which can be re-invested into further promoting development.

Golden Visa programs also play a significant role in international relations. They can help countries to develop stronger economic and cultural ties with other nations, ultimately fostering greater cooperation and trust. Such collaborations can promote innovation and knowledge-sharing, as well as offer significant long-term benefits for both the host country and the investors, which can lead to the development of new industries, and ultimately help to create a more dynamic and innovative economy.

Last but not least, Golden Visa programs can also generate political benefits. Investors can become valued contributors to a country’s social and political fabric, bringing fresh ideas, insights, and perspectives. Their investments can support political stability and development, which can have a ripple effect on society and the economy at large.

Potential Consequences of Sudden Terminations of the Golden Visa Programs 

Sudden terminations of Golden Visa programs can have several significant consequences–mostly unfavorable–for both the host country and the investors who have invested their funds.

From the host country’s perspective, a sudden termination could lead to a loss of foreign investment, negatively impacting the country’s economy. Additionally, it could harm the country’s reputation as a reliable and stable investment destination, deterring potential future investors.

For the investors, the sudden termination of Golden Visa programs could lead to a loss of investment, which could be significant given the substantial amounts of money involved. This loss could be exacerbated by the possibility that the investors may not have adequate legal recourse to recover their investment, which could further damage their trust in the host country.

Overall, abruptly ending a Golden Visa program could have significant economic and reputational consequences for the host country, alongside substantial financial and legal consequences for the investors. Therefore, governments should undertake careful consideration and planning before making any decisions regarding the termination of these programs.

The elimination of Golden Visa programs could also impact the movement of capital and people across borders, which could create a ripple effect on the global economy. Investors who were previously interested in the terminated program may shift their focus to other investment opportunities in different countries, causing a shift in capital flows that could impact currency exchange rates and trade patterns.

On a different and more serious note, some countries may even view the sudden termination of a Golden Visa program as a breach of trust and may retaliate by imposing trade restrictions or other measures that could negatively impact the host country’s economy, which potentially could escalate into a diplomatic conflict that could have far-reaching consequences for global economic stability.

A Case Study: Portugal’s Golden Visa

Portugal’s Golden Visa has granted residency permits to 11,628 main applicants until today, and 18,962 dependent family members have accompanied these numbers.

The program that allows non-EU citizens to obtain residency in Portugal by investing a minimum of €500,000 in real estate or other sectors has been highly successful in attracting foreign investment and contributing significantly to the growth of the real estate market in Portugal. However, the program has also been criticized for its lack of transparency and for fueling gentrification in Lisbon, where property prices have risen dramatically. 

Portugal’s Golden Visa program underwent significant changes on 1st January 2022, limiting the program to address concerns about housing affordability in Lisbon, Porto, and the coastal region. The program, from then on, has only allowed for investment in real estate in low-density areas and urban regeneration projects; while also imposing new social housing requirements on property developers.

Despite the efforts to address these concerns, the Portuguese government announced in early 2023 that the Golden Visa program might be closed soon due to concerns about the program’s impact on housing affordability and social inequality. However, the argument that the program raises housing prices is no longer relevant since the program no longer allows for residential purchases in Lisbon, Porto, or the coastal region. 

The current shape the program has taken after the significant revisions made in early 2022 proves to have negligible impact on the residential housing market, as opposed to the specified rationale as to the decision regarding the possible termination of the program by the government. Hence, it can only be natural to infer that there might be other factors leading to such a resolution. 

The potential closure of the Golden Visa program will undoubtedly have significant consequences for foreign investment in Portugal and the real estate market. However, it also highlights the importance of striking a balance between attracting foreign investment and ensuring social equity and affordability in the housing market. It remains to be seen whether the program’s elimination will lead to a shift in investment to other countries or if Portugal will seek to replace the program with alternative investment schemes. It will be easier to comprehend all the developments and potential consequences once the program’s future is clarified. 

Alternatives to Golden Visa Programs

While Golden Visa programs have long been a popular option for those looking to obtain residency or citizenship in a foreign country, there are a variety of alternatives available to opt for in case of discontinuation of the Golden Visas:

  • Digital nomad visas are designed for individuals who work remotely and can perform their job duties from anywhere around the globe. 
  • Skilled worker visas provide a pathway to temporary or permanent residency for individuals possessing specialized skills or expertise that are in high demand in certain countries. 
  • Entrepreneur visas are an ideal fit for individuals who are interested in starting a business in a foreign country.
  • Expat or retiree visas provide a pathway for those looking to retire or spend an extended period in a foreign country. 
  • Citizenship by descent allows individuals to obtain citizenship in a foreign country if they can prove that they have ancestors who were citizens of that country. 
  • Asylum visas provide a pathway to residency for individuals who have fled their home country due to persecution or fear of persecution.

Each alternative to Golden Visa programs has its own unique set of requirements and benefits. Digital nomad visas provide flexibility and access to new cultures, while skilled worker visas offer a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship. Entrepreneur visas can provide opportunities for business development, and expat or retiree visas offer a chance to experience a new way of life. Citizenship by descent can create a sense of connection to one’s ancestry, whereas asylum visas can hold out a lifeline to individuals fleeing persecution.

When considering alternatives to Golden Visa programs, it is crucial to research and understand the specific requirements and benefits of each option, as well as their potential downsides. By carefully considering all available options, individuals can make an informed decision regarding the best suitable route to live and work in a foreign country for their particular cases.


In conclusion, the Golden Visa program has been the subject of intense controversy, with criticisms centered around issues of transparency, fairness, and potential security risks. While it would be senseless to ignore these criticisms completely, it is also crucial to consider the potential benefits of Golden Visa programs for national and global economies. The influx of investment and talent can drive economic growth and innovation; while simultaneously promoting cultural exchange and diversity.  

Correlatively, the potential consequences of the elimination of Golden Visa programs could be significant, particularly in countries that rely on foreign investment or talent to drive economic growth. It can result in a loss of investment and talent and a decrease in cultural exchange and diversity. The silver lining is, though, there are several alternatives to resort to in the event of the potential termination of a desired Golden Visa.

Eventually, the Golden Visa program is not without its criticisms and controversies. However, it is essential to consider the potential benefits and consequences of such programs, as well as the alternatives available, before making any decisions about their future. Only by carefully weighing the costs and benefits can we hope to create a more just and equitable world.

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