An exploration of the history of citizenship by investment, highlighting the characteristics that have enabled select countries to emerge as beacons of stability and consistency.
Citizenship by investment, otherwise known as ‘economic citizenship’, is a process whereby countries fast-track applicants to citizenship in return for a substantial investment.
For the potential applicant, a second citizenship can provide access to new investment opportunities and deliver increased global mobility. For the country, economic citizens are an avenue to diversify and stimulate the economy.
Over the past 33 years, several countries have endeavoured to incorporate citizenship by investment in their laws, but only some have succeeded in formalising them into working programmes. This paper will briefly explore the history of citizenship by investment, highlighting the characteristics that have enabled select countries to emerge as beacons of stability and consistency.
From Dormancy to Germination
Though the industry had humble beginnings in the early eighties, the growing need for governments to source alternate revenue streams amid globalisation, coupled with an increased demand for individuals to become global citizens, has resulted in an industry that is now marked by steady and continuing growth.
Citizenship by investment was introduced in 1984 in the Federation of St Christopher (Kitts) and Nevis – a newly independent Caribbean island-state that was redefining its attitudes to nationality. At the time, the law entitled a person “upon making application under [Part II, Section 3, Part 5 of the 1984 Citizenship Act] to the Minister in the prescribed manner and upon payment of any fee that may be prescribed, to be registered as a citizen of St Christopher and Nevis without any rights of voting […] if the Cabinet is satisfied that such person has invested substantially in St Christopher and Nevis.”
Broader provisions encompassing citizenship by investment were adopted by Austria in 1985, when the Federal Government was given the authority to grant nationality “in the interest of the Republic by reason of the alien’s actual or expected outstanding achievements.”
In 1989, Ireland launched its own citizenship by investment programme, but, rather than publicly outlining the applicable norms, it did so in a confidential Statement of Intent that drew legitimacy from the 1986 Naturalisation and Citizenship Act.
The Commonwealth of Dominica inaugurated its Citizenship by Investment Programme in 1993. Grenada did the same in the late nineties; the last of the Caribbean islands to attempt to establish an operating citizenship programme before the financial crisis.
Finally, relying on amendments made in 1985 to its Nationality Act, Belize unveiled its Economic Citizenship Investment Programme in 1995, enabling those who made substantial contributions to the country’s economy and its wellbeing to be registered as citizens.
Of these early programmes, only St Kitts and Nevis and Dominica have stood the test of time – remaining fully operational from their foundation onwards. Austria retains the relevant legal framework for economic citizenship, but this is rarely invoked. Ireland and Belize have both seen their programmes close, in 1998 and in 2002 respectively.
Particularly in the past four years, citizenship by investment has begun to flourish. Prominent European examples include Cyprus, which revolutionised its Scheme for Naturalisation of Investors by Exception in 2014 – making it more attractive than the 2002 version – and Malta, which established its Individual Investor Programme in 2014. In the Caribbean, 2013 saw the entry of Antigua and Barbuda and a newly conceived Grenada Programme. Saint Lucia made its mark in 2016 with a unique US$3 million minimum net-worth requirement – a condition that was to be abandoned in January 2017.
The Elements of Endurance
The history of citizenship by investment reveals an uneven pattern of programmes that have come and gone, that have been reborn into very different versions of their previous selves, that are still in their infancy, and – for a very small minority – that have refined their processes over the years to provide a durable solution for foreign entrepreneurs. Two dominant elements set the latter apart from their peers: the ability to dynamically respond to changing demand and a commitment to due diligence.
A Dynamic Response
Citizenship by investment is premised on the notion that foreign nationals are both eager to receive a second citizenship, and willing to undergo the prescribed procedures that make them eligible for that citizenship. If foreign nationals do not see the value of a second citizenship, or if they are discouraged by lengthy and unpredictable requirements, they are unlikely to apply for the privilege of dual nationality. To remain successful, citizenship by investment programmes must thus understand what elements matter to foreigners, and adapt accordingly.
St Kitts and Nevis is a clear expression of this principle, rebranding itself in 2016 as the ‘Platinum Standard’ of the citizenship arena, and setting a new pace for the industry by being the first jurisdiction to introduce an Accelerated Application Process and an online case management system. This demonstrated that St Kitts and Nevis understood their target market – the globetrotting, time-poor individual – and made the changes to suit their needs.
Over the years, Dominica has been improving its offering and strengthening its vetting processes to ensure that only quality and morally sound individuals apply. In 2014, the Programme was adjusted with new regulations that strengthened its focus on due diligence, along with an additional option for foreigners to invest in real estate developments.
Fast adaptation to change is an asset for countries vying to compete in an ever-more densely populated citizenship by investment space, yet not all countries have full flexibility to respond to market variations. As longstanding programmes, St Kitts and Nevis, along with Dominica, have developed agility in responding to the changing needs of their target market, ensuring the safety, security, and sophistication of their offering.
A member of the European Union, Malta runs a young citizenship programme granting successful applicants the right of abode across much of mainland Europe and, at the time of writing, the United Kingdom. A major lure for investors seeking to settle in the ‘Old Continent’, membership of the European Union is however a double-edged sword. When Malta first sought to enter the citizenship market, it proposed rapid processing of applicants to rival the three months offered by countries in the Caribbean. However, Malta’s relationship to its European Union counterparts provided an additional hurdle for its programme model. As a consequence, the island put into effect a one-year residence requirement, commonly known as the ‘genuine link’ test, which can be unappealing to the high net worth individual who cannot dedicate lengthy periods of time to fulfil this requirement.
Migration, in all its forms, can raise apprehension, particularly where a government is regarded as ineffective in its vetting of non-nationals. In the context of citizenship by investment, this apprehension is exacerbated because a foreigner may not have ties with the host country that have been strengthened by a physical presence or longstanding relationship with its people. Therefore, citizenship by investment countries must be seen to thoroughly investigate applicants; adhering to best practices when doing so, and, where possible, collaborating with international allies and organisations – in other words, rigorous vetting that far surpasses that of traditional citizenship processes.
As an example, St Kitts and Nevis, and Dominica’s reputations have thrived thanks to their consistent review and improvement of applicant screening procedures. The due diligence processes are both robust and begin with external vetting by an internationally recognised due diligence firm. The countries are famed for cooperating closely with governments, regional overseers, and global supervisory bodies, including the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat’s Implementing Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) and Interpol.
Citizenship by investment is a legal process that has been enshrined in the laws of nations for decades. For certain countries, like St Kitts and Nevis and Dominica, it has been a defining feature of their migration strategy, providing a tool for economic development whilst offering an effective route to dual nationality. For others, it is still at an embryonic stage, promising future revenue but also encountering the challenges more mature programmes may have faced, and overcome, in the past. While all nations currently offering citizenship by investment programmes have their own unique selling points, durability should be at the heart of a prudent investor’s choice for second citizenship.
Micha Rose-Emmett is a South African and English lawyer with degrees in business and law. Her expertise includes international private client advice, commercial law, property investment and citizenship planning. Micha has many years of experience in citizenship, residence, immigration and foreign investment law and has held several senior legal advisory roles across a range of industries. She specialises in providing citizenship planning services to HNW individuals. Micha has also travelled extensively providing consultancy services to governments and private firms. The jurisdictions she has worked in include the UK, UAE, Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and Europe. In advising governments, Micha has led professional teams and coordinated the development, delivery and on-going management of citizenship programs and projects.