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Thursday 28 August 2014

State's cash-for-visas scheme fails to attract global investors

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

Published 07/01/2014 | 02:30

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Just 31 investment proposals have been approved through the Government's cash-for-visas scheme.
Just 31 investment proposals have been approved through the Government's cash-for-visas scheme.

THE Government's cash-for-visas scheme has failed to spark major international investment.

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Just 31 investment proposals have been approved on the back of €23m pledged by wealthy foreigners, a Department of Justice report reveals.

Under the Immigrant Investor and Entrepreneur Programmes, businesspeople from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) can get residency here for themselves and their families for five years if they buy at least €1m in government bonds or invest a minimum of €500,000 in a business.

The programmes were introduced in April 2012 to incentivise foreign investment in an effort to boost the cash-strapped economy. However, take-up of the programmes has been disappointing, despite their being marketed abroad by Irish embassies and the IDA.

A total of 69 visas have been issued to foreign investors and members of their families under the programmes.

Just 17 investment proposals, involving a combined €12.6m, were approved last year. This compares with 14 investments, valued at €10.4m, in the nine months the programmes operated in 2012.

According to the department's annual immigration review, the investments made under the programmes have the potential to create 300 jobs. But it remains unclear how many jobs have actually been created to date.

The figures indicate that changes implemented last year to make the programmes more attractive have, so far, failed to significantly boost international interest.

These changes included a halving of the original amount which needed to be invested under the schemes and allowing for investment in real estate trusts. Applicants were also allowed to include their children's tuition fees in the investment figure.

The department's review indicates that even though emigration is continuing to soar, as many people are applying for visas to come here as are leaving.

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The most recent CSO statistics show 89,000 left Ireland in the 12 months to April 2013. But the department's review shows 95,000 applications for Irish visas were made last year, of which over 86,000 were approved.

The countries with the largest number of applicants were India (16pc), Russia (15pc), China (11pc), Nigeria (6pc) and Turkey (5pc).

One in eight of the population is now non-Irish, with the majority coming from other EU countries. Overall, some 160,000 visa, residency, protection and citizenship applications were dealt with by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service last year.

Decisions were made in 176,600 cases in 2013. At the end of the year it was estimated that 120,000 people from outside the EEA -- comprising most of the EU, as well as Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein -- were living in Ireland. This figure was around 1,000 less than at the end of 2012.

Around one-third of these -- 39,600 -- were students. Thirty-nine per cent of these were taking degree courses, 21pc were doing non-degree further education courses, 27pc were taking language courses, and 13pc were in other levels of education, including secondary schools.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said big strides had been made to reduce backlogs and the length of time applicants were waiting for a decision on visa and citizenship applications.

"Huge improvements have been made in the citizenship area, visa applications are being processed in a matter of days in the great majority of cases and new asylum applications are being processed to completion within months," he said.

Irish Independent

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