The Great Reconfiguration of the Investment Migration Market After COVID-19

 

Richard Moir and Kristin Surak consider how the pandemic has transformed investor migrants’ preferences.

Centrifugal forces

For practitioners in the investment migration industry, global citizenship  has a precise definition to suit the characteristics of globalization: increased internationalization, mobility, and disposable income, facilitating the financialization and commoditization of citizenship.

The centrifugal forces of globalization, as outlined by John Micklethwait in Future Perfect, have produced a class of individuals called Cosmocrats, much sought-after by jurisdictions and agents offering residency and citizenship by investment programs.

Centripetal forces

The advent of the pandemic and the concomitant restrictions on travel and other freedoms, however, has forced a reassessment of the benefits and costs of internationalism.

Is internationalism a passport to loneliness and to a loss of roots and identity? Covid has led to all manner of existential questions and moral quandaries, including about how to deal with the grief of loved ones dying alone in far-off places. Perhaps parochialism, close-knit family, and good neighbors have benefits after all.

The post-Covid reconfiguration of the investment migration market

According to Professor Kristin Surak of the London School of Economics, the pandemic has forced a revision of the assumptions on which the residency and citizenship by investment industry have heretofore been based. 

As she describes, until 2020 it was presumed that citizenship in a Caribbean country always came with ready entry into Europe. However, the flush of border controls imposed during the pandemic has brought this assumption into question. For much of 2020, a passport from Saint Kitts would not have gained its bearer entry into Spain, for example, but a residence permit secured through Spain’s “golden visa” program would have. 

This shift may change some of the considerations that buyers make and may make some residence programs more desirable than citizenship offerings. 

Furthermore, the new travel restrictions have impacted populations unaccustomed to such barriers. For many years, Professor Surak noted, citizens of countries of the Global North rarely needed to worry about securing the right documents before traveling to other economically successful destinations. 

This changed dramatically during the pandemic, and Americans represented the most salient case of those with traditionally privileged citizenships suddenly feeling unwelcome abroad. At one point, US passport holders had easy entry to about only 85 countries – about the same as citizens of Botswana in a normal year. This change of situation has increased interest among Americans – who still constitute the largest population of millionaires in the world – in ways to secure improved travel possibilities.

Closer to home

Professor Surak describes, moreover, that the demand calculations themselves may be changing. As borders harden, people will begin to look for Plan B locations where they would want to live for a longer period than a mere holiday or use more regularly as a base rather than just a launchpad. Her most recent statistical research on the economic outcomes of the residence by investment programs in the EU finds that investors resemble tourists and businesspeople – not immigrants –  in their logic when selecting options.

The pandemic has brought with it increased medium-term thinking, along with considerations of the quality of health care and overall quality of life – perhaps in places not too far from one’s home base. The result may be a rise in regional preferences, with Americans and Canadians considering Caribbean options and the post-Brexit British looking for ways to retain access to the EU, while Russians might telecommute from the Mediterranean and East Asians spend more time in Thailand and Malaysia.

Desire ≠ demand

The pandemic may have increased demand, Professor Surak explains, but its economic impact will have different effects depending on the wealth band of the buyer. Entrepreneurs with successful businesses that are comparatively smallish in size will take a greater hit than the very rich. 

Indeed, ultra-high net worth individuals have continued to see their wealth expand throughout the pandemic. Thus, if many have now recognized the utility of investment migration options, those in lower wealth bands may wait until the global economy recovers before they have the expendable funds to make the jump. 

And we’re likely to see demand continue to grow in booming Global South economies – places like China, India, and Vietnam, alongside South Africa and Nigeria. For years, countries in the Caribbean have been gradually dropping their prices, producing a “race to the bottom” that may also decrease the total revenue the programs bring to the country. The post-pandemic world might present a supportive context for reversing this trend.

Finally, Professor Surak added, there has been increased interest in investment migration programs outside Global North and its Caribbean neighbors. Turkey now hosts the most popular citizenship by investment program, and – when its program is not on hold – Malaysia outstrips even the US in demand for its residence by investment program. 

As pressure from Brussels mounts within the EU, we may also see countries retool their residence by investment programs into entrepreneurial programs that emphasize business skills when screening investor migrants. But whether or not this occurs, the programs in the Global South may still out-do them in numbers.  

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Richard Moir Author
International Strategic Advisor

Richard Moir is a market access specialist. His professional expertise covers the domains of international relations and diplomatic and political consultancy.

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