As published on irishtimes.com, Monday 15 February, 2021.
National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) raised €1.6 million through the Government’s €826 million cash-for-residency scheme to fund efforts to boost third-level education access.
More than 1,100 non-EU citizens have bought the right to live in the Republic by putting at least €1 million into approved businesses or giving up to €500,000 to charities through the Government’s Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP).
NUIG confirmed that it raised €1.6 million through the charity option available under the programme, run by the Department of Justice, to support its “Access Hub” project.
Non-EU citizens get residency rights through the programme by investing a minimum of €1 million in approved projects, or through endowments – charity donations – of up to €500,000. Investments are returned to the individuals after a set period of time, but endowments are not.
NUIG pointed out that endowments given through the IIP must satisfy eligibility criteria set by the department.
“The university will continue to assess opportunities under the programme in order to support the mission and objectives of the university in line with the applicable guidelines as set out by public policy,” NUIG said in a statement.
The college explained that the project for which it raised the €1.6 million through the IIP is meant to tackle inequality by broadening access to third-level education. It did not say from which countries its donors came or how many were involved.
Although business-seeking investors are the most frequent users of the IIP, several high-profile organisations have confirmed recently that they used it to get charity donations.
Housing charity Peter McVerry Trust raised €1.6 million through the scheme’s endowment route in 2019, using the cash to buy social housing last year. Tallaght Hospital in Dublin obtained €1.6 million to pay for robotic surgery equipment.
While the department gives figures on the overall amount of cash raised and the number of organisations and projects that the IIP has supported since it began in 2012, officials do not generally say which organisations or businesses have benefitted, as they maintain that this information is “commercially sensitive”.
The cash must go to projects that the Government has prioritised, including social housing and nursing homes. The department says that since the programme began in 2012, 1,162 individuals have invested €826.5 million in businesses and charities here in return for residency rights for themselves and their families.
Figures released by the department show that wealthy non-EU citizens paid €249 million for about 3,500 social homes in the Republic under the programme between 2012 and 2019.
However, the department cautioned that approval for these projects “does not equate to actual builds”.
Developers say Irish banks are unwilling to fund social-housing projects, while private-equity funds charge high interest rates when they back these developments. Consequently, builders argue that the IIP is a viable alternative.
The scheme is most popular with Chinese investors and donors, who account for 1,088 of the 1,162 non-EU citizens that have bought residency rights through the IIP.
US citizens accounted for 21 investors, but figures involved in organising investment through the programme speculate that this could increase, depending on recently-elected president Joe Biden’s tax policies.
The US, along with several EU countries and the UK, all have versions of the scheme. The Republic’s programme grants residency rights, which allow beneficiaries to live here, but not citizenship or Irish passports.