While the Olympics were underway, a Turkish business watched the games from the tiny Caribbean nation of St. Kitts. He had learned of St Kits just months before. Now he is applying for second citizenship
As unsettling events and turmoil continue to wash over many Middle Eastern countries, more people are seeking safe harbors. As is the case with most things in life, being wealthy gives a person a slew of options for residence while they protect their financial assets.
Investor visas – known as EB5 in America – are classes of visas that are held for entrepreneurs and investors who will be arriving in a country for the purpose of either starting a business or investing in one. Some forms of investor visas may eventually lead to permanent residence and citizenship. Another route, and one being taken by many, is the pursuit of “second citizenship.”
The laws regarding second citizenship vary widely from nation to nation.
Many wealthy individuals wish to get a 2nd passport to allow them to travel worldwide without the interference of political problems. Second citizenship has been very beneficial to Middle Eastern citizens who, along with other nationalities, have severely restricted access to European Union and South American countries without a visa.
While some Western millionaires emigrate or seek second citizenship for tax reasons, wealthy citizens from the Middle East, North Africa, Iran and Pakistan do so for other reasons. Since 9/11, many have become wary of potential visa problems. The disruption caused by economic sanctions as well as political and economic instability have also been motivators.
To flee the region’s problems, they are forking over any where from $100,000 to millions to qualify for citizen-by-investment programs offered by a variety of countries. Lebanese citizens, Syrians caught in a civil war and Iranians feeling the pinch from tightening UN and Western sanctions are the three groups most actively seeking second citizenship.
Some countries offer economic citizen ship programs but can take years to process applications. Other countries with a need to cut public debt and garner foreign investment are moving quicker.
5 Top Places for Middle Eastern
1. St Kitts and Nevis
The tiniest nation in the Western Hemisphere, St. Kitts and Nevis, holds more promise for potential citizens than palms on sandy, white beaches. The island nation has no personal income tax, allows for dual, or more, citizenship and provides visa-free travel to almost 130 countries.
The citizenship-by-investment measures were initiated in 1984 and makes up the longest running of its type in the world. The plan allows for two different paths to a pristine passport.
One option, and the cheaper, is to make a $250,000 donation to the country’s Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation. Established in 2006, the SIDF aims to help shift the nation’s economy from one based on sugar production to an economy that is service based.
Real estate forms the basis of the second option. Requiring a higher investment, $400,000, citizenship via this path has been closed to Iranian’s since the storming of the British embassy. In response to continued sanctions on Tehran, St. Kitts has temporarily stopped accepting applications from Iranians living in Iran. The country now processes applications only from Iranians already living abroad.
If your pockets aren’t as deep, Dominica is another destination in the Caribbean to think about. Different from the Dominican Republic, this small nation of 73,000 started their program in 1993. Four options are available.
To get accepted, a $100,000 deposit into the National Bank, possess “outstanding character” and able to wait for six weeks for acceptance, are the requirements. Also, a rudimentary knowledge of English is required. An added benefit is that applicants can stay in their native country for the mandated interview. The catch is, the investor must be willing to cover the costs for members of the interview panel to fly to them. On top of air fare, the cost of the interviewer’s hotel, per diem and an extra $3,000 for each member is required.
While requiring a lower investment than St Kitts, the nation provides visa-free access to 85 countries.
3. Antigua and Barbuda
Following years of discussion and debate, the nation’s parliament passed the controversial Citizenship-by-Investment Program (CIP) in March 2013.
Like St. Kitts, Antigua and Barbuda have $250,000 and $400,000 investment options. A third option is a $1.5 million business investment that gives the applicant the right to place money in government approved business.
On top of the investment amount, regardless of which of three options is chosen, there is a $50,000 application fee and a $7,500 “due diligence” fee.
Successful applicants will gain visa-free access to 120 countries including France, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Currently, Austria is the sole country in Europe where citizenship by investment is possible. The route to citizenship in Austria has been taken by very few and even fewer have accomplished it. An investment of $10 million is considered as “rendering exceptional service in the interest of…” Austria and is one option open to people with money.
Austrian citizenship brings with it access to 160 countries, a number matched by Australia and Canada.
5. Hong Kong
Hong Kong doesn’t have a citizenship-by-investment program as such. Instead, it has a residency-by-investment program. The Chinese territory’s tax rate of 15 percent is one of the city’s biggest attractions.
Through Hong Kong’s “Capital Investment Entrant” program, $1.3 million will give the applicant residency rights. With residency rights, a person can buy stocks listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, invest in airport or rail companies and purchase certificates of deposit that mature after only twelve months.
Successful applicants can also access the city’s excellent public health care system. Non-residents will pay approximately $150 to see a specialist whereas residents pay just $13.
Almost 18,000 people have already gained residency by investing in Hong Kong and the requirements to maintain residency are simple – just one visit every three years.
One nation has remained successfully under the radar for citizenship and investing, Paraguay is a land-locked country in South America and has not been known a destination for expats.
By South American standards, the country is small, while being huge in terms of land area. Many from the Middle East are seeking out Paraguay through the country’s Permanent Residence program.
Paraguay offers Permanent Residence from the first day a person lands in the country. The process can take weeks to finalize, but doesn’t require the applicant’s physical presence except for a few days. After about 7 weeks, the applicant will receive a permanent residence permit and their Paraguayan “cedula” – National ID card. If the applicant is not in the country to pick them up, an attorney can get pick the paperwork up and forward it. Resident status is considered permanent from the first day.
Some Middle Easterners have to provide documentation to their home governments that establishes a second citizenship. Having evidence from a foreign government when they leave, they escape the tax nets. Some prefer to hold a foreign Permanent Resident because it allows their children to get into elite schools and universities that are reserved for “foreigners” and others find that having residence in a South American country makes it easier to travel elsewhere in the world.
Second citizenship is a status being pursued by many nationalities. If trouble in the Middle East continues to flare, more people will probably be looking for safe havens in new countries.
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