Here’s the Inside Scoop on ‘Citizenships For Sale’
Citizenship-cum- investment programs offer rich tycoons a chance to acquire a new desirable nationality and are yet another accessory for every vain 21st-century oligarch, and many more multi-millionaires, requiring a second or third or even a fourth passport. Israel assisted Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich by granting him citizenship after UK delayed the renewal of his expired visa. Israel offers free nationality to all Jewish people wishing to become citizens.
Two dozen countries, including some in the EU, offer nationality at hefty prices; the global market in citizenship-by-investment programs (CIPs), is booming for persons with huge financial resources. The scheme costs vary from $100,000 to €2.5m with the wealthy people investing money in property or businesses, buy government bonds or donate cash, in exchange for citizenship and a passport.
Some hesitate to offer citizenship for outright sale, but dole out golden visas rewarding investors with residence permits with citizenship after five years. Such programs are not unique, but their exponential growth, driven by wealthy investors from newly-rich market economies like China, Russia, India, Vietnam, Mexico and Brazil, as also Middle East and Turkey. The first such scheme was initiated in 1984 by a newly independent St. Kitts and Nevis Islands.
For poorer countries, such schemes render them debt-free and become their biggest export earner. The International Monetary Fund estimates that St Kitts and Nevis earned 14% of its GDP from its CIP in 2014, while other estimates are 30% of state revenue. Canada, the UK and New Zealand understand the potential of CIPs (the US EB-5 program earns $4bn a year) but model schemes around their stable economy and safe investment environment rather than on freedom of movement.
24 countries offer citizenship to people willing to investing in business/property or government bonds. Some of the best-known and cheapest CIP schemes are in the Caribbean where a passport can be had for as little as $100,000. Experts from many companies (Henley and Partners, CS Global and Apex), specializing in CIPs, advertise services online and glossy inflight magazines, say that few clients buy citizenship in order to move immediately to the country concerned. Acquisition of another citizenship represents an insurance policy as nationalism, protectionism, isolationism and fears of financial instability arise world-wide; the state of the industry is an accurate barometer of global political and economic instability.
Are CIPs Trouble-free?
CIPs also have their critics. Malta sustains criticism from Brussels and other EU capitals for its program, run by Henley and Partners. According to IMF over 800 wealthy individuals gained citizenship in the three years since launch in 2014. The scheme undermined EU citizenship concept, had major security risks, besides enabling wealthy individuals from Russia with doubtful income streams, to dodge legal sanctions in their own countries. Several other CIPs have been investigated for fraud, while equality campaigners argue it is morally wrong to grant automatic citizenship to tycoons when the hoi polloi must await their turn to be rejected.
The best-known and cheapest CIP schemes are in the Caribbean, and the warm climate, low investment norms and non-stringent residency obligations are very popular. Five countries currently offer CIPs with visa-free travel to the EU, with reduced prices to attract investors as they seek funds to fund rebuilding efforts after last year’s hurricanes. In St Kitts and Nevis a passport can now be had for a $150,000 donation to the Hurricane Relief Fund, while Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada reduced fees to $100,000, along with St Lucia and Dominica.
About half of the EU’s member-states offer investment residency or citizenship leading to a highly prized EU passport, allowing visa-free travel to between 150 and 170 countries. Malta’s citizenship-for-sale scheme requires a €675,000 donation to the national development fund and a €350,000 property purchase. In Cyprus, the scheme requires a €2m investment in real estate, stocks, government bonds or Cypriot businesses (new passports are capped at 700 a year). In Bulgaria, €500,000 secures residency while €1m (over two years plus a year’s residency) secures fast-track citizenship. Investors secure residency rights leading to citizenship after five years (subject to passing relevant language and other tests) for €65,000 in Latvia (equities), €250,000 in Greece (property), €350,000 or €500,000 (property or a small business investment fund) or €500,000 in Spain (property with a 10 years wait to for citizenship).
Rest of the World
Thailand has elite residency packages costing $3,000-$4,000 a year for up to 20 years residency, some including health checkups, spa treatments and VIP handling from government agencies. The EB-5 US visa, particularly popular with Chinese investors, costs between €500,000 and $1m depending on the type of investment and gives green card residency that can eventually lead to a passport. Canada exited its CA$ 800,000 federal investment immigration program in 2014 but offers a similar residency scheme, costing just over CA$1m, for innovative start-ups and regional schemes in Quebec, etc. Australia requires an investment of AU$1.5m and a net worth of AU$2.5m for residency leading to citizenship while New Zealand (popular with Silicon Valley types) requires an investment of NZ$10m for citizenship.
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