Are We Witnessing the Extinction of Citizenship by Investment?
Tajick’s Take With Stephane Tajick
A seasoned researcher on RCBI, Stephane Tajick analyzes global shifts in the investment migration industry.
“I will harass you, I will chase you, I will hunt you down!” These are not the words of the actor Liam Neeson in the movie Taken, when the protagonist vows vengeance on the criminals who kidnapped his daughter. They are the words of Sophie in ‘t Veld, a member of the European Parliament, speaking to her fellow members and pressuring them to end RCBI in Europe.
This is the sorry state of the situation: Those who scream the loudest are the only ones being heard. When someone as experienced as Didier Reynders echoes those sentiments – which have also been voiced by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen – it will be hard for other policymakers to ignore. The powers that be have now found the ammunition they were looking for: The Russian invasion of Ukraine. Any rational opposition has now been muted. They are using the war as a catalyst, and the momentum is firmly with them.
The last few weeks have seen the EU, US, and others vow to put an end to CBI, not only in Europe but also beyond, clearly putting the Caribbean in their crosshairs. These threats have now become very real. Vanuatu has been pretty much stripped of their visa-free travel to the EU, rendering the Vanuatu CBI practically worthless.
Are we looking at an extinction event? Is this the end of CBI? The No Travel for Traffickers Act, a proposed US bi-partisan bill, could bring an end to Maltese MEIN, and if the shots fired by the US don’t bring it down, the EU Parliament likely will. The added pressure on the other countries with a CIP benefiting from visa-free travel to the EU might find themselves thinking, “Well, we had a good run. Can we negotiate an amnesty period?”
CIPs are not the only ones in the crosshairs. “Golden Visas” in Europe are also being targeted to either to close or be as unattractive as possible. Already, a few Golden Visas in Europe have taken steps to shut their doors to Russian applicants; the UK going as far as to terminate its Investor Visa program. Now, European Golden Visas are unlikely to be shut down, and I’m not too pessimistic about their ability to weather the storm. But a small change like a high minimum stay requirement during the year could seriously affect their attractiveness. Also, now that real estate prices are soaring due low interest rates, Golden Visa programs that heavily rely on their Real Estate option can more easily be discarded.
Let’s go back to the start
Since the first time I laid eyes on an EU parliament report on investment migration, it was apparent that the report had an archetypical ”investor” in mind: the Russian oligarch, Putin’s agent. Since then, every report that followed has irrationally viewed immigrant investors as a potential security threat, implying that a “bad” Russian agent would use “Putin money” to gain residency or citizenship into Europe and spy, engage in terrorist activities, or be part of organized crime and launder money.
Now, I’m not a Russian government apologist. Past and present actions have shown that the existence of a “Russian threat” to Europe is far from being pure fiction. That said, labeling all Russian investors as a “high security risk” and all immigrant investors as “Russian” is resorting to blatant discrimination and falsehoods.
Why are those using immigrant investor programs portrayed as more likely to be a security threat and prone to money laundering? For us experts in the field, it’s maddening to hear that programs that have a much higher level of due diligence than other immigration paths are labeled security and money-laundering risks when you can do the exact same thing with any other resident permit. As if it makes more sense for a terrorist/criminal/spy to make a half-million euro investment, wait six months for approval, and pass a high level of due diligence instead of simply applying for a tourist visa or entering illegally.
Most countries have a dozen paths to temporary residency, so if someone has the motivation and means, he can qualify for most of these paths. As a global mobility expert, I know I can land people in Europe without using an immigrant investor program.
Portugal has blocked access to its Golden Visa for Russians, but I can still help a Russian with a bit of wealth to land in Portugal in multiple other ways:
- D7 visa: if he doesn’t already have a stable monthly income, I’ll just tell him to put his house up for rent and wait to collect a few months of stable rental income before applying.
- D2 Visa: I’ll tell him to get his company to provide him with a consulting contract so he can apply as a freelancer.
- Work Visa/D3/EU Blue card: Invest in a Portuguese company, ask them to give you a position, and request a work permit.
- Startup Visa: Find him a tech project to develop in Portugal and create a business plan for him.
This applicant will get their residency permit in Portugal sooner than if he had applied to a Golden Visa, will be able to open a bank account, transfer money, and buy a property in Europe, but with a lot less scrutiny. How can policymakers making these decisions not know this?
Do Russian applicants warrant so much attention?
Russians do not constitute a sizeable enough proportion of the investment migration market to warrant this much attention. The cumulative number of Russian applications a year (in the programs below) is roughly 550 – and that’s when you generously count all Maltese ”Europeans” as Russians. That’s somewhere between 5% to 7% of the applications approved cumulatively under those programs. And forget for an instant that the reason to shut down RCBI is based on 5-7% of applicants. How many of these past Russian applicants have actually been proven to be credible security threats or criminals?
Russian proportion of RCBI applicants (latest recorded year)
- Antigua & Barbuda: 9%
- Australia Investor Stream: <1%
- Canada QIIP: <5%
- Greece: 6%
- Ireland: <1%
- Latvia Investor: >50% (historical high, but now the applicants can be counted in one hand)
- Malta MEIN: 45% are defined as “European”; it’s unclear what proportion are Russian
- New Zealand Investor: 0.25%
- Portugal Investor: 4% (Since 2012)
- Spain Investor: 30%
- St Lucia: 17%
- UK Investor: 10%
- US EB5: <1%
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been used as a boogeyman to order the shutdown of every CBI out there and make all RBIs in Europe worthless.
RCBI programs do not have a life of their own; they are a product of government policies. Their governments can amend those programs, often at will. If a program is not meeting its economic objectives or poses a security risk, it’s not because the program magically took on a life of its own, but usually because policymakers lack the expertise required to design and implement a worthy program.
So, what’s next?
I’d be surprised if CBIs with visa-free travel to the Schengen area are not phased out relatively soon. You might still be able to get a Turkish passport, but I’m not sure that’s attractive to most people.
What might emerge after the dust has settled is “Simplified Naturalization” – that is, countries will use existing legislation usually catering to those with a special situation (marriage, ancestry, stateless) and extend it to certain high-value investors. Simplified Naturalization already exists around the world. In European countries, it usually requires three years of residence. If any European country were to accept such a scheme in the future, it would likely require:
- High investment, deemed worthy by the country and the EU
- EU-wide due diligence on each case
- Special tax (donation) to an EU collective fund.
In the end, CBI will simply become RBI.
Europe’s Golden Visas will survive, but if a high physical presence is imposed throughout the year, the core demand will likely start slowly moving away from the continent. It was the death of North American RBIs that gave rise to European RBIs. Today, where would the industry shift the demand? Good question. The US EB5 Regional Center program is reopening. It can definitely hold a good capacity and with the specter of the “war in Europe” looming, it won’t be difficult for the program to remarket itself. That said, it’s still unclear if the processing time will ever reach acceptable levels again. The same can be said about the QIIP if it ever reopens.
Australia and New Zealand run their immigration systems better than the rest. If they feel there’s a problem with their programs, they fix it; they don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. That said, Australia’s Investor Stream is already operating at high capacity. New Zealand is very attractive in a world going bonkers and is operating at low capacity, but the program is not accessible to the masses.
There are programs on the fringes that might benefit from more attention in Latin America or in places like Mauritius and Fiji. And who knows? Maybe the UAE might come up with a surprise in the form of a path to naturalization.
It would be surprising for the UK Investor Visa program not to reopen considering the mercantile nature of that country. But if past decades have taught me anything, it’s that any program that closes or becomes ”temporarily suspended” is unlikely to reopen anytime soon, if ever.
In conclusion, the battle may already be lost for CBI, but RBI in Europe can still be saved. It will require the industry to seriously come together and propose a reasonable side to the story. The best approach might not be to counter all the opposition arguments but rather to help the EU reach its objectives without compromising the competitiveness of the programs.
On a final note, let’s extend thoughts and prayers to our esteemed colleague Anatoliy Lyetayev and his staff. Let’s hope for the safety of their families and all innocent people worldwide.
Stephane Tajick is a researcher in the field of investment migration, the developer of the STC database on more than 200 residence and citizenship by investment programs worldwide. He is a regular columnist at Investment Migration Insider.