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Interest in Italy's investor visa is growing - but who can actually get it?

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Interest in Italy's investor visa is growing - but who can actually get it?
An investor visa may be the gateway to a new life in Italy - for a small but significantly wealthy number of applicants. Photo by AXP Photography on Unsplash

You may have heard that Italy is one of a few EU countries still offering a 'golden' or investor visa. But there are very few successful applicants, as Italy-based American writer Mark Hinshaw explains.

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Those of us who live in Italy full-time and participate in online groups for expats have noticed a distinct increase in the number of posts by Americans asking about ways to move to Italy. One could speculate on the reasons, in both 'push' and 'pull' categories, but it’s clear there is a significant rise.

Of course, Covid put a damper on many people’s plans and perhaps this renewed desire is simply a pent-up demand that has finally been released.

The real turning point is when people learn what is involved. Seemingly, some posts suggest that there are those who think it’s like moving from Kansas to Maryland. That is, you just pack up and move when you want. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Rather, it requires researching options, following directions, financial planning, doing scouting trips, and – for those without the ability to claim citizenship – the ability to qualify for one of a limited number of visa types.

One that has caught the attention of many people is the investor visa. This visa was adopted in 2017 but has taken years to be seen as a real option.

Samantha Wilson, head of the Florence-based consultancy Smart Move Italy, tells me she has noted a recent, distinct uptick in interest in this visa path. However, its implementation has not come without some hiccups.

The investor visa offers a host of rights and privileges immediately available upon payment of a substantial amount of money.

READ ALSO: 'Arduous process': What to expect when applying for Italian permanent residency

There are four choices of who and what to pay, ranging from 250,000 euros to an “innovative” Italian start-up company to a two-million-euro check for government bonds. It’s essentially a ‘pay to play’ scheme. Indeed, one doesn’t even have to live in Italy to get one. It’s all about the money.

For several years, the European Commission has been warning about the dangers of letting people into the union who are escaping legal problems or just wanting entry to EU markets.

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Recently, Portugal tightened up its investor visa program and both the Netherlands and Ireland eliminated theirs.

In the meantime, Italy continues to offer its investor visa.

In July 2023, Italy suspended investor visas for Russian citizens, almost a year and a half after the EU recommended member states do so. The year before, Italy had issued at least 32 Russian citizens with two-year investor visas, out of 36 applications, according to reports in Italian magazine Altreconomia, based on data from Italy’s Ministry for Economic Development (MISE).

The EU forced Italy to revoke those visas, given that they violated the EU sanctions against Russia. It’s not clear what happened to the money those Russians handed over, or if they were deported for no longer having a valid visa.

Securing an investor visa is not a DIY endeavor. The people who have received them have often used consulting firms who specialize in this form of visa. Applications are carefully scrutinized for questionable financial reporting, relationships, and documentation. Rejections are not uncommon. Clearly, it’s not an easy path.

This is also represented by the numbers. Since 2018, when the visa was first made available, only several dozen people, mainly from the UK and the USA, have received them, with a couple of dozen others scattered among other countries.

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The numbers have gone up each year, but the most recent available data from MISE shows the total in 2022 (minus those pesky Russians) was less than 50.

Only a few people have been willing to talk about their experiences, and some consulting firms don’t want to reveal their proprietary methods, which may involve having connections with the 'right' officials. Actual information from successful applicants is hard to come by, especially with such a small number of recipients.

I spoke to consultant Patrizia di Gregorio, who operates Expats Living in Rome with a group on Facebook by the same name.

“I’ve worked in an Italian consulate and know what goes on behind the scenes,” she says. “In 23 years of working with different consulates and other agencies, I have seen so many inconsistencies between both consulates and comunes.”

READ ALSO: From visas to language: What Americans can expect when retiring in Italy

Barbara De Benedittis, of BDB Relocation and Legal, reports that foreign banks are often the sticking point in providing letters attesting to the funds available for the transaction.

Some, particularly American banks, are apparently reticent, due to stiff EU anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism regulations.

“Some have refused to issue the required letters,” Barbara says. “Perhaps banks fear serious regulatory consequences if something illegal is discovered later in the transaction.“

One couple I spoke with, who preferred to remain anonymous, said they paid their consultant more than 10,000 euros for their expertise and assistance. But if one has hundreds of thousands to spend, such a fee would hardly seem exorbitant.

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Another couple said that once they wrote a check for their investment, the visa was issued within days. Yet another couple lauded their consultant for helping them work through the uncertain and complex system.

According to one firm, Italy employs a thorough investigative process to ensure that risks are minimised by all parties. Provided the original investment is maintained, an investor visa can also be renewed.

On the surface, the benefits of an investor visa are appealing. Successful applicants are granted legal residency immediately. In five years, they become eligible for permanent residency. At the ten-year point, they become eligible for citizenship. They have access to medical care.

All that sounds good, until you realize that most of these rights are little more than what is available with other visas.

Find out more about visa options when planning a move from the US to Italy in the The Local's Italian visa section.

Mark Hinshaw is a retired city planner from the US who lives in Le Marche, Italy, with his wife. He has contributed articles to numerous professional books, journals, and online magazines. His book Navigating Paradise was recently published by Zefiro Edizioni in Italy.

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