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Start-Up Visa Scheme in Cyprus Shows Great Promise

September 2017, 29
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Headquartered in Nicosia, Wargaming, had a humble beginning in 1998 as a five-man start-up in Minsk but now has an employee base running to thousands throughout the world.

Cyprus offers fast-track visas for technological entrepreneurs, based out of the European Union area, and successfully attracts the cream of the talent, who launch/operate pioneering start-ups, with a great potential for growth.

The program offers a gateway into the EU, and gives applicants a strategically-located base, at low operational costs. It has a competitive, EU-approved tax regime. The time zones are business-friendly, and the sunny weather promises a great lifestyle. These benefits attract many promising entrepreneurs, from EU countries who do not need visas for Cyprus, as it is a member of the EU.

The start-up visa scheme is meant for the non-EU nationals and was introduced in February. It is designed to boost the start-up system, which continues to learn and grow, based on the arrival of the best brains in the sphere. Applicants who are successful get the right to live and work, in the country for one year initially.

After completing two years, when the enterprise is judged for being successful, or it demonstrates a potential to create jobs, the visas are extended for an indefinite period.

The program welcomes individual founders or a team of five members. They are required to have access to €50,000 in the capital, and the Head Office of their company should be registered in Cyprus.

Cyprus has a rich expatriate and local tech community and is aided with incubators and accelerators, which are always available to give them required support.

Global tech giants like Viber, Skype, and Wargaming, and many others have established head offices in Cyprus.

Gitex Technology Week, an annual global event, attracts massive and powerful audiences will witness a delegation from the Cyprus Investment Promotion Agency, in Dubai in October. This is being done with the aim of promoting Cypriot start-ups and its start-up visa schemes. 

Because of proximity with Gulf, Cyprus visa program has generated interest from tech entrepreneurs in the region. The prospect of doing business in Cyprus, closer to home is attractive.

There is a blooming Russian-speaking expatriate business community in Cyprus, and the program can attract, several Russian-speaking prospective tech entrepreneurs. 

Wargaming Company now employs several workers, and has a fine network of 16 offices, throughout the world. Its founder, Victor Kislyi is a billionaire, who resides in Nicosia, when he is not traveling.

This scheme holds appeal, to Chinese entrepreneurs, because they are world leaders in the tech industry now. Cyprus serves as a springboard, into the EU, and even further for them.

Applicants need to show the innovative nature of their start-up. In case of an existing start-up, an external auditor has to certify that, 10% of the operational expenses have been reserved, for research and development, in one of the three previous years.  All the new enterprises are evaluated based on their business plan. 

Marios Georgiadis, of CIPA, said that the Start-ups, beginning with a minimum staff, have the possibility of developing into major companies, and can have up to 50 employees. They can avail long-term benefits and a fine tax system. They can also have a decent income and can apply for the status of the Non-Domicile Tax Resident. It also carries tax exemptions and is highly competitive.

Viber has shown rapid growth and was bought by the Japan-based Rakuten for $900mn in 2014. Its founders realized a huge return, on their investments, after paying tax at 12.5 percent, on their gains.

At present, there are new arrivals like Whipper, a chat and play Game Digital Messaging Platform for the young, with headquarters in Limassol.  The tech industry in Cyprus is making a mark at the global level, and the start-up visa scheme will enrich the talent pool in a big way.

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