The super-rich are moving to ‘back up’ countries during Covid

The perfect storm of Covid and Brexit has seen an unprecedented surge in future pandemic prepping – it includes having multiple citizenships.

There was a time when procuring multiple passports and citizenships was the stuff of airport thrillers not real life. It was a discreet deal between two sets of lawyers behind closed doors. It certainly wasn’t talked about openly.

Today, investment migration is a global industry – a pretty mainstream and transparently marketed lifestyle choice for High Net Worth Individuals, benefiting all parties involved.

A leader in the world of matchmaking private investors with willing sovereign states, London-based Henley & Partners, has just published the results of in-depth data analysis, showing that the way different countries have managed the Covid crisis is having a big impact on who wants to become a citizen where.

Historically these programmes have appealed to very rich people from post-colonial countries yet to develop the diplomatic trade relations that provide visa-free travel. Immigration policy in the UK and France mean it’s a lot easier for a Nigerian businessman to take his family to Disneyland Paris on, say, a St Lucian passport than a Nigerian one. But now the rest of the world is catching on to such benefits, particularly the UK and the US.

“Our clients want to know they’ve got somewhere to go that’s safe,” says Paddy Blewer of Henley & Partners. “They’re asking ‘Who’s got great healthcare?’, and ‘How can I live there?’ People actively want to know what the primary health care is like and even how many intensive care beds they have.”

According to Henley & Partners’ research (in collaboration with Deep Knowledge Analytics which specialises in forecasting technological megatrends), Canada comes out top in terms of health management and risk-readiness, with New Zealand and Australia in second and third place. There are four European countries in the top ten – Switzerland, Austria, Italy and the UK (in tenth place).

“It’s no coincidence the first nation to preemptively close its borders with the US a year ago tops this assessment,” comments Greg Lindsey, Director of Applied Research at NewCities, a global non-profit organisation encouraging collaborations between city residents, businesses, academic institutions and governments.

“True to form, Canada’s quiet competency, deference to authority and historic ‘garrison mentality’ – as seen in five provinces walling themselves off from the rest of the country with great success – culminated in the best overall score.”

Interestingly, the US ranks 16th on the list and Henley says migration citizenship enquiries by Americans has risen by more than 200% in the last year. Anecdotal accounts from clients show that even the richest people with the swankiest health insurance appreciate the importance of a country’s primary healthcare system being strong.

“Yes, you might, after three or four days get moved to that private hospital that feels like a six-star hotel, but you could be dead by then,” says Blewer. “After years of failed public-health policy and a lack of joined-up thinking between federal and state governments, the US is simply not ready to manage a serious pandemic or other volatile event.”

Investment Migration isn’t, however, the quick fix, ‘pay the money and jump the queue’ situation it might appear. Applying for a migration residency or citizenship takes a minimum of three months for Caribbean countries and a lot longer for many others, giving the relevant governments time to establish that you’re not a money launderer or a terrorist. And, of course, you still have to abide by its quarantine laws when you get there.

A few years ago, the most common applicants were individuals or families that had either made wealth or inherited it but were from parts of the world where they felt effectively trapped by their nationality. Today, the biggest movement is happening as a result of Brexit and Covid and also the fact that the industry is getting bigger and more sophisticated in the way it works.

“In the second half of last year, when it became clear that we were getting a hard Brexit, we began to get hundreds of calls from Brits who had always assumed they’d be able to retire to wherever they wanted, or at least move to their second homes in Europe. They were asking for help,” says Blewer.

“Then there’s that family with five luxury safari lodges in Kruger, all of which have now been closed for a year. With all their assets in South African rand, they are now going to think about diversifying their portfolio in other parts of the world.”

So how do you go about getting one? “First we ask people what they really want out of it,” says Blewer. In other words, do you have global business aspirations, are you seeking a home in the sun or simply a safe haven in a crisis. This will also help establish whether you need residency or a citizenship. A residency allows you to live somewhere for an agreed amount of time, albeit usually with the option to extend it, sometimes permanently. A citizenship, once granted, is for life.

Residency by investment is the most common option among Brits, especially in Portugal and Greece. Each country has different criteria but, for example, in Greece, purchasing a government-approved property can be enough to get you a five-year visa, after which you can then apply for permanent residency. It also means you can travel freely anywhere within the Schengen area.

In Portugal, after five years as a resident, you can take a language exam and become a citizen. What’s in it for Portugal? It’s often as simple as the country wanting to attract the right sort of affluent person, say, a successful Indian tech developer, who will enjoy the Mediterranean lifestyle, set up an office and employ locals.

Malta’s Granting of Citizenship for Exceptional Services by Direct Investment involves a cash injection of at least €738,000 to the Maltese government followed by three years as a resident, at which point citizenship is granted.

According to Henley & Partners, it’s now very common to have a ‘portfolio’ of citizenships, to match your global aspirations, with APAC (Asia-Pacific) residency bolt-ons possible for countries like Australia, New Zealand or Thailand.

Personally, I’d be very happy with just one: St Lucia. And there are several ways I could do it. One is simply by buying a property there worth at least US$300,000. Another, on offer until the end of 2021, requires you to invest US$250,000 in St Lucia Government Bonds for five years, at which point the capital is repaid to you as is standard in bond investment, so minus the fees, you’re getting a lifelong citizenship to one of the Caribbean’s loveliest islands, for free.

Published: 25 March 2021

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