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El Salvador became the first country to accept Bitcoin as legal tender. Now it’s offering citizenship for a $1 million ‘investment’


On Thursday, the government of El Salvador, alongside the stablecoin company Tether, announced a joint initiative called “Adopting El Salvador Freedom” that allows foreigners to obtain a Salvadoran passport in exchange for paying $1 million in Bitcoin.

In 2021, El Salvador became the first country to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender, mandating that businesses accept the leading cryptocurrency as a form of payment and rolling out a digital wallet called “Chivo,” incentivizing citizens to partake with a $30 signup bonus in Bitcoin.

The venture proved controversial, with Salvadorans protesting the move—alongside President Nayib Bukele’s concerning autocratic shift—and adoption was slow, with the vast majority of citizens sticking with cash. Meanwhile, Bukele spending tens of millions in federal funds on Bitcoin proved disastrous, with its price plummeting from an all-time high of around $69,000 in November 2021—when Bukele announced the development of a “Bitcoin City”—to under $17,000 at the beginning of 2023.

Still, El Salvador has proved popular with Bitcoin acolytes from around the world, with the country’s tourism minister announcing in May that travelers were flocking to the country in historic numbers, driven by its commitment to crypto. That included many of the international community’s most prominent “Bitcoin maxis,” such as the influential company Swan Bitcoin, which opened a house in El Zonte, a surf town largely credited for starting the country’s Bitcoin experiment.

A steep decrease in the nation’s crime—spurred by Bukele’s contentious policy of locking up thousands of the country’s alleged gang members—has further incentivized Bitcoin supporters to flock to the country.

‘Visionary individuals’

Thursday’s announcement represents a new phase for El Salvador’s commitment to Bitcoin, buoyed by Bukele’s unverified pronouncement that his investment in Bitcoin has turned profitable, thanks to a recent price rally.

The Bukele administration has long partnered with Bitfinex, an affiliated company of Tether—the world’s leading stablecoin, or a crypto asset pegged, in this case, to the U.S. dollar—that has faced scrutiny over its lack of transparency and offshore jurisdiction. In April, Bitfinex became the first company to receive a license in El Salvador’s new crypto regulatory regime, and the government tapped the firm to help launch a long-delayed Bitcoin-backed bond.

According to a statement from Tether shared with Fortune, the new visa program enables participants to obtain a Salvadoran passport through a one-time payment of $1 million in Bitcoin, which the company is describing as an “investment,” although it is unclear where the funding will be directed. The program is seeking “visionary individuals,” including “high-net-worth investors.”

To start the process, applicants must pay a non-refundable deposit of $999 paid in Bitcoin and Ether, followed by an unspecified “know-your-customer” process. The statement includes a government link to an application page, with a banner that says “Powered by Tether.”

The program comes alongside concerns by Salvadorans that an influx of tourists, especially in coastal cities like El Zonte attracting the crypto crowd, are pushing out lower-income families. In late November, the local publication Mala Yerba reported that 25 families were facing eviction in El Zonte for the construction of a public park called “Bitcoin Beach Club de Playa.”

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