Denise Ng is the Director of Henley & Partners Hong Kong and Head of North Asia.
Interest in investment migration continues to regain traction among Chinese high-net-worth individuals. This trend, which began once the Covid situation improved in the second half of 2022, was evident throughout 2023 when Henley & Partners saw a 22% increase in enquiries by affluent Chinese investors on the back of a huge leap of 99% in 2022. The most popular programs Chinese nationals enquired about were the St. Kitts and Nevis Citizenship by Investment Program, the St. Lucia Citizenship by Investment Program, the Portugal Golden Residence Permit Program, the Greece Golden Visa Program, and the Grenada Citizenship by Investment Program. In terms of applications Henley & Partners received in 2023, China was sixth in the Top 10 nationalities globally. The top three programs Chinese investors applied for were Malta’s Citizenship by Naturalisation for Exceptional Services by Direct Investment, Hong Kong’s Visa Programs, and St. Lucia’s Citizenship by Investment Program.
During the pandemic, when global mobility was suspended and overseas travel for biometric testing was restricted, the proportion of applications for Caribbean programs by North Asian clients increased from 33% in 2021 to 44% in 2022, then dropped back to 30% in 2023. The proportion of clients who applied for programs in Europe rose from 43% in 2022 to 51% last year. The experience of lockdowns also revealed the desirability of having access to multiple jurisdictions. On the back of that, Henley & Partners anticipates that the number of enquiries about and applications for investment migration programs that began to rise when China’s borders re-opened will steadily continue to increase. Applications by Chinese investors have already begun to rise again after dipping during the pandemic, with a 5% increase in 2023. Going forward we expect to see this number grow thanks to the healthy uptick in enquiries.
In 2023, we received a significant number of applications for programs in Europe and Hong Kong, with 51% of North Asian clients opting for citizenship and residence programs in Europe — particularly those offered by Portugal, Malta, Greece, and Spain — and 12% applying for the Hong Kong Visa Programs.
In early 2023, rumors that Portugal’s so-called golden visa program would close led to some clients adopting a wait-and-see approach, while others wished to catch the last train and sped up their applications. In October 2023, the Portuguese government finally confirmed that the program would remain, but with some changes, the key difference being that investors can no longer invest in real estate. Although this option has been removed, there are many other investment possibilities available, and Portugal remains one of the most popular residence programs.
Clients who opted to wait for the Portuguese government’s review of the program explored other possibilities and the Spain Residence by Investment Program and the Greece Golden Visa Program attracted a great deal of attention. Henley & Partners believes that interest in these two programs will continue to grow in 2024.
In 2023, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) introduced the Top Talent Pass Scheme (TTPS), a work and residence visa designed to attract educated and experienced professionals, with no investment required. To qualify, applicants must have earned an annual salary of at least HKD 2.5 million in the year prior to their application (no quota limits), or hold a bachelor’s degree from an eligible university and have at least three years’ work experience over the five years prior to their application (no quota limits), or if they have insufficient work experience, they must have obtained a bachelor’s degree from an eligible university in the five years prior to their application (an annual quota of 10,000 applies). The TTPS has been welcomed by many young professionals, especially Chinese nationals. By the end of 2023, over 44,000 applications had been received and over 30,000 approved, with a quick approval time of between one and four months. As with other Hong Kong visas, the TTPS visa can lead to permanent residence in seven years.
Hong Kong residence programs remain a popular choice. The number of enquiries and applications from global investors increased by 50% in 2023. In the first quarter of 2023, HKSAR announced the re-introduction of the Capital Investment Entrant Scheme (CIES), which was first launched in 2003 and closed in 2015. It was a very successful program during this time, and it is expected that the new CIES will receive a high volume of enquiries and applications. The new program includes several investment options and is expected to accept applications from mid-2024.