Gold for Visas

Credit: OCCRP

For refugees and poor migrants, travel can be terrifying, with no guarantee of a welcome at the end. For the one percent,​ ​it's a different story, as a growing number of cash-strapped countries invite them in​ ​—​ ​as long as they bring plenty of money.

In the Gold for Visas project, reporters for​ ​OCCRP probe the shadowy business of selling visa-free travel and even citizenship to the rich, including some who would rather not say where that money comes from.

These stories​ ​were​ ​produced as part of the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium, a partnership between OCCRP and Transparency International, in cooperation with Global Witness.

WHAT IS A GOLDEN VISA?

Visas For The Rich

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you choose? It’s a game we’ve all played, as kids on a summer afternoon or in late-night chats with adult friends. For a growing number of rich people, the game is real.

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Stories

Russian Billionaire linked to Trump, Manafort Has New Cyprus Passport

Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire businessman with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has obtained free movement around the European Union thanks to his new Cypriot passports.

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Maltese Golden Visas: Thumbs Up? Thumbs Down? Who Knows?

In 2014, Malta’s government introduced a Golden Visa program which has since attracted 1,100 investors and over €850 million. Last week, the island nation’s citizens voted on whether to make changes to the program, but officials say the results won’t be released for weeks.

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The Dubai-ification of Malta

Money and Russians are pouring ​into ​the once-quiet seaside town of Sliema. While there’s no denying that it’s been good for the budget, Maltese citizens are questioning whether it’s been as good for the island.

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Lights! Cameras! Golden Visas!

The rich and famous don’t just flock to Cannes for the film festival — the city also hosts an expo catering to the Golden Visa trade. An OCCRP reporter comes along to see who is selling and who is buying.

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Rich? Successful? Maybe a Little Shady? Check Out Montenegro

Montenegro has welcomed dubious billionaires in the past — but at an international investors’ gathering, the country’s politicians make it crystal clear they’d like more of the world’s super-rich to become Montenegrins.

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Life Is Good. Life Is Golden

Australian-born Romy Hawatt is one of many entrepreneurs to have taken advantage of Montenegro's investor citizenship program. Just what does it mean to be a "Global Citizen"?

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A Portuguese Crusader Seeks to Tap the Brakes on Golden Visas

Portugal’s lax residency requirements attracts all sorts of high-profile investors seeking visa-free travel to the EU. But one parliamentarian is leading the charge for Lisbon to think again.

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How Bashar Assad’s Cousin Tried to ‘Fast-Track’ It to Austrian Citizenship

The fast track to Austrian citizenship can be so opaque it’s been compared to a black hole. To become Austrian, it helps to know the right people — and the right price.

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Visa Scandals Slammed Austria’s Door Shut — or did they?

While Austria has no Golden Visa program per se, a vaguely-worded law allows fast naturalization for foreign citizens, but the process isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t cheap.

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Latvia’s Once-Golden Visas Lose their Shine — But Why?

After a massive influx of new guests from Russia, Latvia reined in its Golden Visa program. What led to the change of heart?

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Global Firm Has Advice for Armenia: Bargain-Priced Golden Visas

Investors may be skeptical of making Armenia their second home — but a firm that specializes in Golden Visa programs thinks it's found the answer.

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Lithuania Shakes Up Immigration, Expels Two Linked to Putin

Lithuania once handed out plenty of residence permits to non-EU citizens, allowing them cheap access to the Schengen Zone. But after the annexation of Crimea, all that has begun to change.

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Hungary’s Stance: Send Us Your Rich, You Can Keep the Tired and Poor

Viktor Orban’s opposition to mass migration is well-known. But when it comes to foreigners with large sums of money to invest, Hungary says come on in.

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From China to Hungary, in Hope and Fear

Chinese citizens have been flocking to Hungary. But since public outrage forced the suspension of the country’s Golden Visa program last year, these new guests have begun to wonder if they’ll get their investment back.

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The Strange Evolution of Hungary’s Golden Visa Program

Rich people moving to Hungary had to buy a €300,000 government bond from mysterious offshore companies that made a good profit on the deal. The politicians who set those companies up broke all kinds of rules.

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Bulgaria’s Golden Visas: Missed Targets and a Banking Loophole

Golden Visa programs intended to lure foreign investors to Bulgaria have had mixed results, reporters for OCCRP partner Bivol have discovered. One appears to be a flop, and both are vulnerable to a technicality that could enrich bankers, and not the country.

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Georgia: We Love You! We Hate You! Do We Need You?

After 2003 Rose Revolution, Georgia invited everybody in. Now, with anti-immigrant groups staging street demonstrations and threatening spot checks of papers for "foreigners," it looks like the tide has turned.

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Videos

The Project Team

These stories were produced as part of the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium, a partnership between OCCRP and Transparency International, in cooperation with Global Witness.

Coordinator: Jody McPhillips

Reporting: Marine Madatyan in Armenia, hetq.am; in Austria, Stefan Melichar, Addendum, and Sahel Zarinfard, Dossier; in Bulgaria, Atanas Tchobanov at Bivol; in Cyprus, Sara Farolfi of IRPI and Stelios Orphanides; in Hungary, Blanka Zoldi of Direkt36; Anita Komuves of Atlatszo; and Tamas Wiedemann of Magyar Nemzet;

In Malta, IRPI’s Lorenzo Bagnoli; in Germany, Christian Salewski and Johannes Edelhoff of ARD Panorama; in Georgia, Mariam Ugrekhelidze of iFact.ge; in Latvia, Sanita Jemberga and Xenia Kolesnikova of Re:Baltica; in Lithuania, Sarunas Cerniauskas, 15min.lt; in Montenegro, Dejan Milovac and Lazar Grdinic of MANS; in Portugal, OCCRP’s Ricardo Gines; and in Russia and Cannes, OCCRP’s Olesya Shmagun.

Editing: Jody McPhillips, Ilya Lozovsky, Rosemary Armao, Dave Bloss, Aubrey Belford, Drew Sullivan, Maxim Edwards

Images and Infographics: Edin Pašović

Videos: Matt Sarnecki, OCCRP; Christian Salewski and Johannes Edelhoff, ARD Panorama

Fact Checking: Birgit Brauer, Inna Civirjic, Olena Goncharova, Sergiu Ipatii, Bojana Pavlović, Dumitru Stoianov

Layout: Adem Kurić

Promotion: Stella Roque, Ilya Donskih