The History of Citizenship by Investment

The overview, originally published in June 2017, has been updated several times, most recently in May 2022 to include a number of historical, semi-formal CIPs from the Asia-Pacific region, as well as to reflect the most recent changes among European and African CIPs.

1982

🇹🇴 Tonga Citizenship by Investment Program opens

Initially selling only Tongan Protected Person Passports (TPPP), the King of Tonga authorized the sale of full-fledged citizenships in 1983. 

Among the first customers was the ousted Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his family.

Read the bizarre story of how a Hong Kong businessman persuaded the King of Tonga to sell $26 million worth of citizenships to Chinese investors and how the King’s court jester lost it all by trading life insurance policies for the terminally ill.

The original passport king: Tāufaʻāhau Tupou IV

1984

🇰🇳 Saint Kitts & Nevis Citizenship by Investment Program opens

Saint Kitts & Nevis opened its CIP just one year after gaining independence.

For the next 20 years, the program lay virtually dormant, only issuing a few hundred passports. 

1985

🇧🇿 The Belize Economic Citizenship Investment Program Opens

The BECIP opens by offering citizenship in exchange for a US$40,000 investment.

Throughout the 1990s the program remains the cheapest CIP – by far – in the Caribbean.

1987

🇲🇭 The Marshall Islands Citizenship Investment Program Opens

In obscurity, the Marshall Islands begin selling citizenships at the official price of US$100,000. 

Years later, following the program’s termination, the Attorney General finds that many citizenships have been sold for far less.

Read Stephane Tajick’s ode to historical CBI programs: Remembering the Dead Part 2 – Citizenship by Investment Programs of Yesteryear

1988

🇮🇪 Irish Economic Citizenship Program opens

Between 1988 and 1998, Ireland issues approximately 150 passports to applicants investing a minimum of £1 million in the country for the purpose of job creation or job maintenance.

1991

🇼🇸 Samoa Citizenship by Investment "Program" opens

In a highly irregular scheme that involved the unofficial sale of citizenships, passports, and even diplomatic passports, Samoan officials sold an estimated 2,200 passports over a six-year period for an average price (prices varied widely) of US$11,000.

Samoa would end the sale of passports in 1997, before opening a more formal and – because of a three-year residence requirement – much less popular CIP in 2017

1992

🇵🇪 Peru Citizenship by Investment Program opens

Aiming to attract sorely needed investment, particularly from Hong Kong, Peru amends its constitution to enable the sale of citizenships for US$25,000 apiece, subjecting applicants to strict screening.

To date, it is the only citizenship by investment program ever to exist in South America.

1993

🇩🇲 Dominica Citizenship by Investment Program opens

While initially successful, the program essentially grinds to a halt in the late 90s following a series of inauspicious events – including failed property developments and loss of visa-free access to Canada – but regains momentum a decade later.

🇵🇪 Peru Citizenship by Investment Program closes

Following public outcry and the issuance of just 12 citizenships to investors, Peru closes its citizenship by investment program less than a year after opening.

1996

🇬🇩 Grenada Economic Citizenship Programme opens

Despite facing strong political opposition, the first Mitchell administration launches what it calls an “Honorary Citizenship Programme”, offering citizenships for just $40,000.

🇰🇭 Cambodia Citizenship by Investment Program opens

Cambodia changes its nationality law to allow for dual citizenship, as well as for the immediate naturalization of individuals who donate or invest, with minimums starting at about US$250,000.

🇹🇴 Tonga Citizenship by Investment Program closes

Though the country’s opposition was able to repeal the CBI Act as early as in 1988, the King of Tonga continued selling citizenships for another eight years, before finally ending the practice in 1996.

🇲🇭 The Marshall Islands Citizenship by Investment Program closes

After selling some 2,000 passports over almost a decade, mainly to Chinese nationals, the Marshall Islands closes its program following repeated pressure from the US government.

1997

🇼🇸 Samoa ends sale of passports

Following a series of scandals revealed in the press, including the imprisonment of immigration officials and the suspicious death of a senior immigration official, Samoa discontinues the sale of passports.

1998

🇳🇷 Nauru Economic Citizenship Program opens

Despite vehement protestations from Australian officials, micro-state Nauru begins selling “economic citizenship” to individuals, chiefly from Hong Kong, who pay US$15-50,000 to the government’s official agent, a Washington DC-based company.

The program would last but a few years before closing.

🇵🇰 Pakistan Commonwealth Citizenship Program opens

Pakistan begins offering citizenship to individuals from Commonwealth countries willing to place PKR 5 million (about US$18,000) in the country’s national bank. The program remains open to this day, though application volume is minuscule.

🇮🇪 Irish Economic Citizenship Program closes

Amid a political controversy involving the Minister of Foreign Affairs and a group of Saudi and Pakistani investors, Ireland abolishes its program after 10 years of operation.

Nauru is so tiny the whole country fits in a single picture.

2001

🇰🇲 Comoros Citizenship by Investment Program opens

Citizenship by investment becomes officially legal as part of Comoros’ nationality law. Between 2006 and 2011, the country sells some 48,000 at wholesale prices, paid for by UAE and Kuwait on the behalf of its stateless residents.

🇬🇩 Grenada Economic Citizenship Program closes

Following the collapse of the country’s largest offshore bank, concerns about due diligence standards and pressure from the US and Canada, the Grenada ECP is discontinued.

2002

🇧🇿 Belize Economic Citizenship Investment Program Closes

Following American security concerns in the wake of 9/11, as well as criticism in relation to the program’s management, Belize suspends the BECIP in March 2002.

2003

🇳🇷 Nauru Citizenship by Investment Program closes

US officials, citing (legitimate) concerns that a number of terrorists had obtained Nauruan passports, pressure Nauru’s president to end the sale of citizenships. The president signs an executive order to that effect while on his deathbed in a New York hospital.

2006

🇰🇳 Saint Kitts & Nevis CIP relaunches

Upon the advice of a new “Passport King”, Christian Kälin of Henley & Partners, the Kittitian government revitalizes its program by introducing a streamlined path to citizenship in three months: a choice between a property investment or a donation. 

The standardized model allows the country to sell citizenship at scale, and the design would go on to be replicated for subsequent CIPs in the region.

The new passport king, Dr. Christian Kälin, here pictured in Nevis in the mid-2000s.

2011

🇨🇾 Cyprus Citizenship by Investment Program opens

A critical milestone for the industry is reached as the first EU member state introduces a CIP. 

Granting far more extensive settlement and travel privileges, Cyprus enters the market at a price point an order of magnitude above its Caribbean cousins.

2013

🇬🇩 Grenada's CIP reopens under a new name

Leaving behind its former “economic citizenship” moniker, Grenada opens a new “Citizenship by Investment Program”. The program’s second iteration has due diligence practices and prices more in line with its Caribbean neighbors.

🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda Citizenship by Investment Program opens

Adopting the model pioneered by Saint Kitts & Nevis seven years earlier, the Antiguan programme quickly takes a big share of the Caribbean market and becomes the only CIP with visa-free travel to Canada, a privilege it later loses.

2014

🇲🇹 Malta Individual Investor Program opens

With official endorsement from the European Commission, four-tiered due diligence, and more visa-free access than any other programme, the Malta IIP quickly becomes the gold standard for CIPs. Henley & Partners narrowly secures an exclusive agreement with the government to design and implement the program, a deal that will go on to make the firm more than EUR 50 million.

🇻🇺 Vanuatu opens first of several formal Citizenship by Investment Programs

While informal CIPs of a questionable legal basis have existed in various guises in Vanuatu since 1990s, the first formal such program to open in Vanuatu is the Capital Investment Immigration Plan (CIIP), in 2014.

Several similar programs (such as the VERP and the REOP) were opened and later closed/replaced. As of August 2018, Vanuatu has two citizenship by investment programs: The VCP and the DSP.

Malta's then-Prime Minister Joseph Muscat agrees to let Henley & Partners manage its new IIP, an agreement later Maltese governments terminate.

2016

🇱🇨 Saint Lucia Citizenship by Investment Program opens

The 5th Caribbean state to open a CIP, the Saint Lucian programme builds on the by now established Caribbean template but is the first in the region to include a government bond investment option.

🇹🇷 Turkey Citizenship by Investment Program opens

Initially launching with a US$ 1 million real estate investment requirement, Turkey later cuts the asking price to US$250,000 and its CIP quickly becomes the world’s most popular.

🇰🇲 Comoros Citizenship by Investment Program closes

Following the election of a new president in 2016, Comoros closes its wholesale CBI program. In the years that follow, a number of officials (including a former president) and businessmen are charged with corruption and embezzlement of public funds in connection with the program.

2017

🇼🇸 Samoa reopens its Citizenship by Investment Program

This time under a more formal structure, Samoa once again opens for naturalization of investors. However, due to much higher minimum investment thresholds, as well as a three-year physical residence requirement, the program sees only limited uptake.

2018

🇯🇴 Jordan Citizenship by Investment Program opens

When Jordan makes a surprise announcement in February 2018 that it has already started accepting applications for its CIP – which starts at US$1 million, a steep price for a passport that doesn’t have Schengen-access – few industry observers expect application numbers to amount to much. The program, however, defies expectations by receiving more than 100 applications in the first six months.

🇲🇩 Moldova Citizenship by Investment Program opens

During the summer of 2018, Moldovan authorities announce they will be formally opening a CIP in October, with a soft launch in August. The price will start at EUR 100,000.

🇲🇪 Montenegro Citizenship by Investment Program opens

Just two weeks after Moldova, Montenegrin authorities announce that they too will open their long-awaited CIP by October. Minimum investment requirements will start at EUR 350,000.

2019

🇲🇩 Moldova Citizenship by Investment Program closes

Under a year after its initial launch, following three changes of government that placed several moratoria on the program and economic pressure from the EU, Moldova eventually scraps its CIP.

2020

🇪🇬 Egypt Citizenship by Investment Program opens

Egypt formally opens its citizenship by investment program with a minimum investment requirement of US$250,000.

🇨🇾 Cyprus closes its Citizenship by Investment Program

Following a widely publicized scandal involving hidden cameras catching high-ranking officials appearing willing to bend the rules for plainly unqualified applicants, the Cypriot government abruptly announces the program’s closure.

🇲🇹 Malta's IIP expires and is replaced by the MEIN policy

As the MIIP reaches its 1,800-application cap, Malta’s government introduces a replacement – The Maltese Exceptional Investor Naturalization policy – which, for political reasons, it studiously avoids referring to as a “program”.

2021

🇲🇰 North Macedonia Citizenship by Investment Program opens

North Macedonia first began offering citizenship by investment at EUR 400,000 in 2016, but only on a discretionary basis. In 2021, a group of private companies work with the government to launch a more formalized EUR 200,000 donation-based CIP. 

More than three years since opening, however, the program has yet to approve any citizenship applications, and private sector agents say they consider the program closed.

2022

🇲🇪 Montenegro closes its Citizenship by Investment Program

Montenegro first flagged its intentions to close the program in by the end of 2021, but a last-minute extension saw the program survive for another year. The program finally closes on December 31st, 2022, following indications from the EU that continuing to sell citizenship would imperil Montenegro’s chances of joining the Union. 

2023

🇸🇻 El Salvador Opens Citizenship by Investment Program

Following years of teasing the prospect, El Salvador officially announces the opening of a citizenship by investment program in December 2023. The program offers citizenship to those who invest US$1 million, in fiat or crypto form. Confusingly referred to as the “Freedom Visa”, the program is really a direct-citizenship by investment scheme. Rules for how to qualify remain unclear, and industry observers note that the price is likely too high compared to competing programs to gain significant traction. 

Notes on programs not included

A number of other schemes reminiscent of citizenship by investment programs have not been included in this overview for the following reasons:

Bangladesh

According to the Central Bank of Bangladesh, foreign nationals can qualify for citizenship “by investing a minimum of US$500,000 or by transferring US$1 million to any recognized financial institution.” The US State Department, meanwhile, indicates US$1-2 million is the requisite amount and that the sum should be transferred to a bank.

The precise requirements of the program elude us, and it is not clear whether this policy has ever been in use, despite the possibility provided for in law. Read more about the Bangladeshi citizenship by investment program here.

Seychelles

The Seychelles technically offers citizenship by investment, and at a prescribed sum at that. But the program doesn’t exempt applicants – who must invest US$1 million – from physical presence requirements: The investors must reside in the country for 11 years before becoming eligible for naturalization. 

As a consequence, we don’t consider the Seychelles’ scheme as a true-to-form CIP. Read more about the Seychelles citizenship by investment program here.

Cabo Verde

Cabo Verde offers citizenship without a residency period in exchange for a “substantial” investment. Unofficial reports indicate an investment of around US$200,000 is considered sufficiently substantial, though there is no formal government policy stating this.

As such, Cabo Verde’s path to citizenship through investment, while viable, is not a CIP in the strict sense.

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