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Passports For Sale: The Elites’ Plan B To Get Through The Pandemic

If you can get a new citizenship by buying passports, would you do it?

Margaret Tionquiao

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  • COVID-19 has brought new travel trends – such as passports for sale and investment schemes, exclusively for the ultra-rich families who can afford it.
  • Officially known as investment migration, it has become possible to buy passports for a visa-free travel, or even a citizenship to certain countries.
  • The selection of countries include Malta, Cyprus, Australia, Portugal, and some other small Caribbean nations.
  • However, some experts argue that these citizenship- or residency-by investment programs breed corruption, money laundering, and inequality.

The coronavirus pandemic has limited many industries and recreation as well as travel options. This is true for most, but not for the super-rich families who use their money. Investment migration has become more popular and passport applications based on wealth, like citizen-by-investment programs (CIPs) and residence-by-investment arrangements (“golden visas”) have become a trend for some. 

As COVID-19 continues to transform the world, the ultra-rich has learned how to enjoy the benefits of citizenship for the freedom of movement, tax benefits, better education, and even civil liberties.

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Dominic Volek, Head of Asia for global citizenship and residence advisory firm Henley & Partners, said that people want the availability of alternative citizenship as insurance.

According to him, they are concerned with healthcare and pandemic preparedness because “Wealthy people don’t plan for five to 10 years — they plan more than 100 years in advance, in terms of wealth and well being.”

If you are among this ultra-rich who are seeking some safe, remote place to hole up in case of another pandemic, then you are probably looking at the possibility of investment migration or passports purchase in the following countries:

Montenegro

If it is about citizenship programs, then Montenegro is among the most popular. With an investment of EUR 450,000 (in the southern areas) or EUR 250,000 (in the northern inland areas), plus a contribution of EUR 100,000 in the form of a government fund donation, Montenegro’s Citizenship-by-Investment Program was able to invite 142% more applications in 2020 compared to 2019.

Cyprus

Like Montenegro, Cyprus is yet another country known for its CIP applications. Reports said that the applications rose by about 75% in the first quarter of 2020 compared to 2019. To avail, an investor needs to invest approximately $2.5 Million. In return, you get the citizenship within 1 year as well as Cyprus passports for you and your family to use when visiting 159 countries visa-free.

Malta

This Mediterranean island-nation offers “unlimited access and settlement freedom throughout the European Union” to applicants for Malta’s Individual Investor Programme (MIIP) making it the fastest route to EU citizenship. 

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Its strict, four-tier process starts with an initial vetting by Henley & Partners and requires the applicant to disclose their net worth and source of funds. They also need police clearance certificates from their birth country, country of citizenship, and their residence for over six months in the last 10 years. 

The rejection rate also ranges from 20 to 25% of the applications, and Volek says it happens “if they’re not comfortable with this person acquiring citizenship.”

Australia 
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Australia offers residency programs to ultra-rich families. The said program costs $1-3.5 million and promises unrivaled quality of life with opportunities for Skilled Immigration Program, economic stability, safe environment, and firm citizenship rights in a wealthy nation with a market-based economy. 

New Zealand

Just like Australia, New Zealand also offers residency programs that are also in high demand for a reason: crisis management.

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Although their residency programs will set their investors back by $1.9-$6.5 million, NZ has come to the top with the way they handled the pandemic, making it more appealing than the UK or the US in terms of health and safety. According to Volek, the increase in residency applications was likely “spurred by articles about these Silicon Valley guys, who had participated in various investor visas programs pre-pandemic and put doomsday plans in place.”

Caribbean countries (Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, or St. Kitts)

“If you have a net worth of roughly $1 million to, say, $5 or $10 million, the Caribbean is a great choice,” says Volek. The small countries are opening up and there’s a lot of interest in healthcare and lifestyle that may be more manageable than in big countries.

Antigua and Barbuda

For this country, there are three available options:

  •  Make a one-time contribution of a minimum of $100,000 to the National Development Fund (NDF) or an approved charity;
  • Buy a real estate property with a minimum value of USD 400,000 (or 200,000 if two related people are represented by the same agent, purchase together). Under this option, the property must be owned for up to five years; or
  • Purchase an eligible business for a minimum of $1.5 million. Under this option, applicants may make a joint business investment with an individual threshold of at least $400,000 provided that the total investment will amount to at least $5 million.
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Saint Kitts and Nevis

Saint Kitts and Nevis was a pioneer in Citizen by Investment Programs. Since its introduction in 1984, St Kitts and Nevis have been offering two different opportunities to get into the US or Canada: 

  • Invest $0.5 million; or 
  • Directly buy passports of St. Kitts and Nevis for $0.29 million and travel to 132 countries for free. 

You can get the citizenship 3 years after you take part in their investment immigration program.

Portugal

“I think a country like Portugal is one of the most attractive because the price point at €350-500,000 is achievable for high-net-worth individuals,” says Volek. With this, applicants can get visa-free access to Europe’s Schengen area, and a guaranteed clear path to citizenship after five years. That is if you can speak at least elementary-level Portuguese.

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CIP proponents say that these programs offer a win-win situation, but some experts suggest it’s not quite so clear-cut.

The proponents argue that investments pour in and it is a good thing for the country, whereas some individuals and groups say that it breeds corruption and money-laundering schemes and amplifies inequality.

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