Europe’s troubled economies have found unlikely saviors in wealthy Chinese. Many European countries are hoping to turn the recession around by luring Chinese millionaires with investor visas and cheap real estate prices.

Countries like Portugal, Spain, Romania, Hungary and Greece, not traditional destinations for emigrants from China, have all passed policies aimed at attracting foreign investment from wealthy Chinese. In exchange for investing millions in local businesses, or purchasing properties, Chinese families can now gain residency permits to a number of European nations.

Portugal introduced a “golden visa” program in 2012, offering residence permit to the immediate family of anyone who could invest 1 million euros ($1.38 million), or create 30 jobs in the country, the South China Morning Post reported on Monday. Out of 542 golden visas issued so far, 433, or nearly 80 percent, are received by the Chinese.

The same consideration is given to anyone who purchases 500,000 euros in local real estate, and helped increase the number of properties sold in the country’s struggling market by 70 percent in 2013. Most of these “golden visa” property buyers, however, are not living in their Portuguese houses.

“We are finding that 90 percent of our interested parties are not planning to live in the country,” said Paul Williams, London-based managing director of La Vida Portugal, a real estate consultancy, according to the South China Morning Post. “They are planning to invest and ultimately gain the citizenship.”

An international bailout for Portugal will end this May, but the government is optimistic it can grow the economy by 1.2 percent, ending the nation’s worst economic crisis in modern history, in large part aided by investments from golden visa investors, whose numbers are expected to grow even further this year.

“I believe that in 2014 it will be possible to attract more than 500 million euros in investment through ‘golden visas’,” said Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas in a note sent to the national news agency Lusa last month. “They play a not-small role in the economic recovery.”

Similarly, Romania is offering an investor immigration package that requires an investment of at least 1  million euros, or creation of 100 jobs. Spain requires half a million euros in real estate investment. Hungary offers permanent residency to investors willing to leave a quarter-million euros into a five-year government bond, while Greece and Cyprus ask for the same amount in property purchases. The Netherlands, which is tightening its immigration measures, unlike the other nations, asks for at least 1.25 million euros in local investment, according to the South China Morning Post.

Even though most Chinese investors choose to remain in China, their offspring could end up living in Europe in a few years.

"I really like the education system," said Jason Wu, an investor from Shanghai who bought a 1,200-square-foot apartment in Lisbon, but still lives in China with his family.. "And in the future my children will go to Portugal to study … for their growth."


[Note: Lisbon, Portugal street photo by]