What’s Driving Economic Citizenship for Asia’s Elite
Traditionally, the majority of the world’s wealthy elite have hailed from those parts of the world with advanced Western economies; most notably from Europe and North America. However, this trend is shifting east as Asia now mints more new high net worth and ultra high net worth individuals than any other part of the world. At the end of 2015, there were 5.1 million high net worth individuals (HNWIs) in Asia Pacific with a combined wealth of USD 17.4 trillion.
A growing trend amongst these wealthy individuals is the desire to obtain an alternative or second citizenship. As demand drives supply, the number of Economic Citizenship programs (also known as citizenship-by-investment programs) available to HNWIs and their families has steadily increased over the last few years and is expected to continue to do so.
In exchange for a significant financial contribution or investment to the domestic economy, citizenship-by-investment programs offer the world’s wealthy elite with the opportunity to obtain citizenship and in so doing provide them with something that is less tangible and more desirable than any material object – the ability to transcend into a ‘global citizen’ with access to all the benefits which that affords.
There are a multitude of reasons why wealthy people apply to these programs. In Asia, it has primarily been driven by the poor travel-ability of the majority of Asia-domiciled passports. The biggest market being motivated by the ability to achieve greater mobility is China, whose nationals hold a passport that allows visa-free access to just 50 countries around the world. Other key markets include Thailand (71), the Philippines (61), Indonesia (58), Vietnam (47) and Bangladesh (39). HNWIs in these countries therefore look to the citizenship-by-investment programs of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, and St. Kitts and Nevis which provide wealthy foreign nationals who invest into these countries with visa-free access to up to 134 countries including those in the European Union (EU).
As more and more HNWIs surface around the Asian region, the need to ensure financial safety by protecting their personal assets and diversifying investments for themselves and their families continues to be a primary driving factor for the significant demand for these programs. The implementation of the Common Reporting Standard calling on jurisdictions to obtain information from their financial institutions and automatically exchange that information with other jurisdictions on an annual basis beginning in 2017/2018 has led to an increased focus on this aspect of economic citizenship. Although citizenship doesn’t have a direct impact on the automatic exchange of information as it is based on tax residency, the citizenship-by-investment programs in Malta and Cyprus can be particularly attractive given that they provide holders of EU passports the right to settle in all 28 member states of the EU which effectively provides 28 tax residency options.
Beyond the desire for easier travel and financial safety, the deteriorating geopolitical climate and recent terror attacks around the world has seen a greater emphasis on physical safety and security motivating HNWIs to explore Economic Citizenship in order to have a safe haven to move to should local conditions deteriorate further.
The surge in interest in citizenship-by-investment programs from Asian-based HNWIs reflects a combination of the growing wealth in these emerging markets as well as the evolving motivations for HNWIs to further enhance their ability to become global citizens.
Author: Dominic Volek, Managing Director Henley & Partners Singapore, Head South East Asia
 Source: World Wealth Report 2016, Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management
 Source: The Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index 2016
 Amongst the Caribbean programs, only citizens of Antigua and Barbuda enjoy visa-free access to Canada
 Amongst the Caribbean programs, only citizens of Grenada enjoy visa-free access to China