“When Clients Ask About a Program And It’s Not Portugal, I Talk About Portugal”: John Hanafin on the Mobility Standard
The Mobility Standard podcast this week hosted John Hanafin, chief executive at Huriya Private, who spoke with us about the complementarity of investment migration and financial planning, both of which are fields in which he has extensive experience.
- 00:30 – Who is John Hanafin and what is Huriya Private?
- 05:45 – The complementarity of investment migration and financial planning: Can you plan for one without also planning for the other? Are the two realms best kept separate or will more firms begin offering these services in conjunction with each other?
- 17:04 – Balkan countries planning for CBI and which of them are really closest to EU membership.
- 19:57 – Why Ireland should have a CIP, why and how it should reform its IIP, and which other programs it should be modeled on.
Investment migration and financial planning: Natural bedfellows
Many firms in the investment migration market choose to steer clear of providing advice on tax and estate planning, partly because they don’t have the necessary training but also to avoid becoming subject to the stricter regulations pertaining to such practices. Questioned as to whether he thinks RCBI practitioners should also help clients plan for the tax and estate implications of partaking in investment migration programs, Hanafin indicated they were essentially two sides of the same coin:
“I think it’s mandatory [to plan for both together]. It shouldn’t even be a consideration […] I don’t understand how it can be just a transaction. […] There are people in the industry who are very good at what they do and who purely want to do [RCBI] and that’s it. And I’ve worked for people who have had that attitude, shall we say. “
Hanafin points out that, during the onboarding of a client, a number of other matters with which the client could use help inevitably come to light, such as the structures through which they hold their assets, the countries in which they have unnecessary exposure, and so on. Where a pure-play investment migration firm might not give those other elements of a client’s situation much though, preferring instead to focus just on the immigration aspect, Hanafin uses the opportunity to find out what other solutions he can help the client with.
“In Dubai, you can be selling bananas on Friday and passports on Monday.”
“Maybe the guy comes to my office and says ‘I own the office tower next door,’ to which I might say ‘oh great, how do you own it? In your individual name? Okay, well you understand this is a civil law country, not a common law country, and you have sharia implications of having assets over here. Perhaps that’s something we can discuss alongside your passport,’ and so on.”
Hanafin comments that Dubai, in particular, is a place where clients can easily end up with advisors who are too narrowly focused on RCBI and who don’t give due consideration to possible tax and estate implications.
“The issue with Dubai as a jurisdiction is that you can set up a specialist immigration firm in about 48 hours. You can’t do that in the UK, for example, where you need to be a qualified immigration lawyer. You can’t do that in most European countries. In Dubai, you can be selling bananas on Friday and passports on Monday.”
Hanafin says he doesn’t consider himself a CBI agent but, rather, a financial and tax advisor who also offers RCBI solutions as part of a broad range of services. One of the trends he’s keeping an eye on in recent years is the influx of wealthy Europeans moving to the Middle East as a reaction to aggressive tax policies in Europe.
“We are seeing more Europeans coming to the Middle East than we are seeing Middle Easterners going to Europe. And that’s not just bitcoin investors; these are genuine entrepreneurs who think that their governments are being unfair to them. They see a place like Dubai and they compare it to Monaco, Lichtenstein, Isle of Man, Jersey or Guernsey, etc., the usual low/zero tax jurisdictions. More and more of those [who would otherwise have gone to conventional tax havens] are coming to the Middle East.”
North Macedonia and Albania “about five years ahead of Montenegro” on EU accession
On the topic of Balkan countries with CBI programs or CBI aspirations, Hanafin says he sees an increasing number of them changing legislation to accommodate such programs.
“There are rumors about Serbia, there are rumors about Croatia, there are rumors about Albania,” he says, but adds that there are some misconceptions as to which Balkan countries are closest to EU accession.
“Montenegro promoted themselves as the next EU country. But if you read the statutes and the laws, North Macedonia and Albania are about five years ahead of Montenegro.”
Pressed as to where he’s getting that impression, Hanafin says “it’s factual. The agreements have already been signed for North Macedonia and Albania to join Europe. Montenegro has joined NATO but they’re not in any way, shape, or form near joining the EU.”
Where would John Hanafin most like to see a new CIP open? In his native Ireland, he responds without hesitation. For now, however, he says there are still too many uncomfortable memories from the Bertie Ahern years, when Ireland operated a citizenship by investment program (of sorts). He does, however, lobby the Irish government from time to time, urging them to at least reform their Ireland Immigrant Investor Program and make it more attractive.
And what would a better Ireland IIP look like in practice? According to Hanafin, it would look more like Portugal’s Golden Visa, which he characterizes as a scheme that has done “some very smart things” and has been very successful at attracting capital. He also hints that, though it isn’t the right answer for every client, Portugal’s Golden Visa his favorite program overall:
“Every time a client comes to us to ask about a program and it’s not Portugal, I talk about Portugal.”
Christian Henrik Nesheim is the founder and editor of Investment Migration Insider, the #1 magazine – online or offline – for residency and citizenship by investment. He is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, documentary producer, and writer on the subject of investment migration, whose work is cited in the Economist, Bloomberg, Fortune, Forbes, Newsweek, and Business Insider. Norwegian by birth, Christian has spent the last 16 years in the United States, China, Spain, and Portugal.