Developing Professional Standards for a Growing Industry
INTERVIEW: BRUNO L’ECUYER, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF THE INVESTMENT MIGRATION COUNCIL
Bruno L’ecuyer, Chief Executive of the Investment Migration Council, explains how the association works with professional bodies, governments and international organisations in order to increase public understanding of the investment migration industry and shares the IMC’s plans and priorities for the coming years.
What is the role of the Investment Migration Council, and what is its mission?
The IMC was set-up in Geneva in 2014 as a non-profit industry association. It is the worldwide association of investment migration professionals and the industry’s first and only credible self-regulatory body. It brings together the leading stakeholders in the field and gives the industry a voice and significant accountability.
The purpose of the council is simple and straightforward. It has been created by industry leaders and various governments who have, in the last few years, made repeated calls for the industry to introduce concrete structures to elevate public trust and introduce transparent and reliable regulatory standards. The IMC has set out its mission, which is the result of a global consultation with the world’s leading professionals in this field, as follows:
- Setting the global standards in relation to residence and citizenship-by-investment and informing public policy in this field.
- Promoting competence, continued professional development and high ethical standards among its members.
- Improving public understanding and transparency of investor residency and citizenship programmes.
- Contributing to the scholarly field of investment migration.
- Being the trusted partner and the leading platform for professionals, academia and governments.
Can you define the meaning of investment migration and citizenship-by-investment – what are the distinguishing features of each?
This excellent question is not as simple as it might seem, since migration virtually always boasts an economic component. In the absolute majority of cases, meeting the basic requirements set for the acquisition of nationality and residence, especially permanent residence, comes down to the assessment of the (economic) contribution that the migrant makes to the host society: the regular payment of taxes, security of employment and the possession of necessary skills, all aiming to guarantee a stable contribution to society as opposed to reliance on the local social assistance schemes. These have to be distinguished from investment migration, of which citizenship by investment is an important component.
Investment migration is different since the key emphasis in designing and implementing investment migration programmes is on the financial contribution that the migrant is willing and able to make for the benefit of the host society. It is thus not merely the presence of the financial component, which is of key importance for us. This, as I said, is present in a number of migration and citizenship programmes around the world. What is of importance is the key role played by the financial contribution in the programmes, which are covered by the term. Any visa or residence programme allowing access into one or more countries based primarily (but not exclusively) on a financial contribution to the host society, will fall within the term ‘investment migration’. The same applies to citizenship by investment, which focuses on the financial and investment-oriented side of granting nationality, as opposed to other elements, such as family ties with other citizens, sporting achievements, birth in a particular territory and the like. The definition is broad to ensure that all investment migration and citizenship-by-investment programmes around the world fall within its scope.
What are the most common issues faced by clients and governments in the area of investment migration and citizenship by investment?
Any well-designed investment migration programme implies that the interests of the clients and the governments are aligned; both sides should benefit from the programme. This is where key issues usually arise, which can theoretically be resolved at the programme design or implementation stage, but often go unnoticed for a long time. Plenty of mistakes can be made, undermining the interests of both the government and the clients. For example, the due diligence requirements established by the government eager to cash in on the programme could be too lenient. While this can be presented as a positive feature, since a visa or a nationality is easier to acquire, this is highly problematic in the long run. When such leniency is discovered, it necessarily undermines the trust of other states in the nationalities granted, reducing the value of investment for all the clients and, ultimately, undermining the financial viability of the programme.
Similarly, programmes lacking transparency, or where rules are not sufficiently clear and strict, can suffer from corruption, undermining trust and value of investments.
On the other side of the coin, the attractiveness of a most diligently designed programme can be radically different from real life. Studies show, for example, that the added value of some reputable programmes is far from clear, as the investments they generate are not adding sufficient value in the context of the country’s economy to justify the allocation of resources, which the running of the programme requires. All in all, very serious individual scrutiny of all the components or where rules are not sufficiently clear and strict, can suffer from corruption, undermining trust and value of investments.
All in all, very serious individual scrutiny of all the components of each investment residency- or citizenship-by-investment programme is required before any conclusions are drawn. The devil is always in the detail. This being said, it is crucial to take the interests of both the clients and the governments into account at all stages. Programmes that do not actually benefit the country establishing them are much more common than one might think.
There is a lot of political controversy around migration generally. How does the Council aim to influence public debate?
The number of countries offering immigrant investor programmes has grown significantly over recent years, and this will continue as countries complete for investment and talent.
While new programmes have been introduced, older existing programmes have been refined and strengthened in order to increase integrity and security, and overall the quality and reliability of investor immigration structures is much greater than in the past. The key factor for all programmes is the strength of their due diligence procedures, and these are continually being refined and reinforced. The IMC works with professional associations, governments and international organisations in order to increase public understanding of this complex area and promotes education and high professional standards among its members.
What requirements are necessary for one to become a member of the IMC?
To become an active member, one must be a practitioner with proven experience and expertise in residency and citizenship planning, have a good reputation and a clean professional and personal record. The IMC will evaluate each application on its own merits and decide on admissions. There are different types of memberships available, including corporate, individual, academic and government.
What is the IMC’s long-term vision?
Currently, we are focusing on creating the industry’s first set of professional qualifications, essentially establishing a training and certification programme for professionals working in the industry. This follows on from the very useful ‘Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct’, which we launched in 2015 and that has been adopted by all our members and also some governments, either directly or indirectly by amending it so that it suits their local environment. Additionally, the Council sets professional practice standards for members on a global level through this Code, creating a culture of professional excellence and ethical practice. As for our long-term vision, it is straight forward: the IMC will be the worldwide association for investment migration professionals, academics and governments to come together, providing a platform for cross-border exchanges.
Source: IM Yearbook 2018/2019