Citizenship in exchange for investment: existing and new programs

Citizenship by Investment programs became widespread in the second half of the last decade. Now the number of countries issuing “golden passports” to large investors in real estate or the economy has decreased, but in 2023 new participants are expected to appear in this market, and quite unexpected ones.

The increased activity in this direction can be explained by at least three circumstances. Firstly, the financial situation of a number of countries – especially small ones and heavily dependent on international tourism – has been shaken during the pandemic, and in this way they are hoping to improve it. Secondly, political instability and armed conflicts in certain regions force their residents to go in search of a “safe haven,” but at the same time, some of them do not want to lose their status. Thirdly, the number of people wishing to become holders of “golden passports” has increased due to the fact that many of them provide the right to visa-free entry into the EU countries, Schengen, the UK and other “strategically important” countries.

There are now only four countries left in Europe that accept citizenship in exchange for investment: Malta, Montenegro, Austria and Turkey. At the same time, the European Commission sued Malta for insufficiently thorough, in its opinion, screening of candidates, and Montenegro, aspiring to join the EU, announced the closure of its program from January 1, 2023. And although some officials – in particular, Finance Minister Aleksandar Damjanovic – criticized this decision, arguing that the country would suffer serious economic damage, it is unlikely that it will be reversed.

Finally, the Austrian program, in addition to its high cost (2.5 million euros as a charitable contribution and 8 million euros of investment in business), is characterized by opaque conditions, strict selection and a long waiting period for a decision (12-18 months).

Elsewhere in the world, citizenship by investment programs continue in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Vanuatu, Jordan and Cambodia. True, in Saint Lucia, on December 31, 2022, the promotional period expires, when a passport could be obtained for the purchase of government bonds in the amount of 250 thousand USD instead of 500 thousand USD, and all “commercial” citizens of Vanuatu, without exception, have already lost visa-free entry into the Schengen countries agreements.

Against this background, obtaining Turkish citizenship looks most attractive, despite the fact that in 2022 the minimum threshold for participation in it through the purchase of real estate was raised from 250 to 400 thousand US dollars. This is confirmed by the sharply increased activity in this market of Russians, who were previously among the main investors, and have now become leaders.

Taking into account the emerging trends, the introduction of “Citizenship in exchange for investment” programs was announced by 13 countries of the world. Of these, the most realistic seems to be the Armenian program, which should start operating at the end of January 2023, although the acceptance of applications has already begun. In addition to the many financial options, prices are also quite affordable, ranging from 100 thousand to 1 million USD. In addition, in the foreseeable future it is possible to provide citizens of Armenia with visa-free entry to Schengen, which may be of interest to many Russians who have difficulty obtaining the appropriate visas.

Montenegro will most likely be replaced by its neighboring Albania, which also strives to join the European Union, but does not succumb to pressure from it. Its citizens can already visit Schengen countries without issuing entry visas, and this rule will certainly apply to holders of “golden passports.” True, there is still no clarity regarding the conditions for participation in this program, although the Albanian authorities are already planning to open a tender to select a partner for its promotion.

In Latin America, the investment programs of El Salvador and Suriname deserve attention, for whose citizens visa-free entry to Schengen is also open. And although for now we are only talking about the possibility of launching these programs without specifying details (in the case of El Salvador, the minimum amount is 100 thousand USD with the possibility of payment in bitcoins), they may turn out to be very popular.

In Asia, Laos is closest to the implementation of the program project, although the financial requirements for applicants seem excessive: 1 million USD in the form of basic investments and 500 thousand USD for the development of the country. And citizenship in this case will not be full with all the rights and responsibilities of the indigenous population, but “honorary”.

The bar of 1 million USD was also set by Uzbekistan, which does not recognize dual citizenship, which will most likely limit the circle of potential investors. The Maldives also announced the launch of the Citizenship by Investment program, but the cost of participation has not yet been announced.

Finally, in Africa, Mauritius has the best chance of attracting investors – primarily due to its geographical location and the living conditions created. However, the minimum investment size can hardly be called adequate for an African country – 500 thousand USD and 100 thousand USD for each dependent, while the Kenyan authorities are ready to limit themselves to the amount of 200 thousand USD. As for Zimbabwe, Rwanda and the Central African Republic, only extreme extreme sportsmen will decide to become their citizen with all the ensuing consequences.

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