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Pandemic Prompts Surge In Golden Visa Requests

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor , September 16, 2020


One highlight of the data, the authors say, is that US citizens have become far more interested in buying these "golden visas", as have Canadians and UK citizens. The market for citizenship/residency-by-investment schemes continues to be vigorous.

The global pandemic hasn’t just encouraged city dwellers to think about moving into less densely populated suburbs or the countryside (provided there is fast broadband), it has also made more people think about moving abroad for part of the year, if they can afford to.

That’s the take from “golden visa” advisory firm Henley & Partners, which says that there has been a 50 per cent surge in the number of people enquiring about residency/citizenship-by-investment programs during the first half of this year compared with a year ago,.

“While the surge in interest shown by citizens of emerging economies such as India and Nigeria is somewhat predictable, a fascinating turn of events is the growing attention from nationals of leading developed nations. Most notable is America, with a dramatic 100 per cent increase in enquiries from US citizens in the first six months of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019, along with significantly greater interest shown by Canadians and UK citizens,” the firm said yesterday. 

A raft of jurisdictions, such as the UK, the US, Malta, Mauritius, Cyprus, Portugal, Spain, Grenada and others offer citizenship and/or residency to people willing to invest money, usually in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars or equivalent. Small countries such as Malta justify the programs by saying that they bring in valuable revenue. Even larger countries say they are a great ways of attracting inward investment. The programs are controversial and have been criticized for facilitating money laundering. Such claims are denied by industry groups such as the Investment Migration Forum

"The tumultuous events of 2020, including the unplanned pause during the Great Lockdown, have resulted in people reconsidering how they wish to conduct their lives and — for those fortunate enough — choosing where they want to live by opting for investment migration," Henley & Partners CEO Dr Juerg Steffen said. "The relentless volatility in terms of both wealth and lifestyle has resulted in a significant shift in how alternative residence and citizenship are perceived by high net worth investors around the world."

In terms of the total number of enquiries made in the first six months of 2020, Indian nationals outstripped all other nationalities. Henley & Partners said it received 96.5 per cent more enquiries from Indian nationals than Nigerian nationals, who were placed second, followed by Pakistan and, startlingly, the US.

Several countries that host investment migration programs rank high on prominent indexes such as the 2020 Global Peace Index, the World Bank's 2020 Ease of Doing Business ranking, and Deep Knowledge Analytics' COVID-19 Regional Safety Assessment ranking. 

For those seeking the comfort of an alternative residence option in times of crisis, New Zealand comes out on top, ranking first in both the GPI and Ease of Doing Business index and second in the COVID-19 Regional Safety Assessment ranking. Other alternatives for high net worth families are Singapore, which ranks seventh in the GPI, second in the Ease of Doing Business index, and 10th in the Covid-19 Regional Safety Assessment ranking, and Australia, which ranks 13th, 14th, and sixth in the three indexes, respectively.

In terms of alternative citizenship options in Europe, Austria is the top option, ranking fourth in the GPI, 27th in the Ease of Doing Business index, and eighth in the Covid-19 Regional Safety Assessment index, while Montenegro ranks 69th, 50th, and 83rd in the three indexes, respectively. The GPI omits the Caribbean small-island nations, but St Lucia ranks 93rd in the Ease of Doing Business index and 127th in the COVID-19 Regional Safety Assessment ranking, making it the Caribbean investment migration program of choice for high net worth individuals.

(Editor's comment: These are interesting findings, although, of course, a firm advising clients about these programs is bound to bang the drum about them. Something to consider in the short-term is that even if a person does obtain a "golden visa", what do they do if countries maintain strict quarantine rules for arrivals? Even some of the countries selling these programs have been hit by the pandemic, such as Malta and Spain. Geopolitical uncertainties caused by other factors, such as China's actions in Hong Kong, might be more durable reasons for applying for these visas over time.)

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