In the face of travel bans, inadequate healthcare and a dearth of vaccines, wealthy Africans are turning to citizenship and residence by investment programmes (CBI/RBI) as a viable alternative for health, safety, and financial empowerment.
There are many reasons to be hopeful that the end of the pandemic could be in sight. Many countries around the world have already started rolling out COVID-19 vaccination programmes, with places like Israel, the United Arab Emirates[i], the UK and the US kick-starting the process in December 2020.
At the same time, organisations like the International Air Transport Association are working to develop internationally recognised vaccination travel passes[ii]in the hope of reconnecting large swathes of the globe as soon as possible.
But what if you live in a country where vaccines are months, or years, away? Where your government couldn’t be trusted to store vaccines properly, where hospitals don't have ventilators, and where your options to travel were limited by your citizenship?
If you were in that situation and had the means, you would likely search for a Plan B – and that’s exactly what wealthy Africans from countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Angola, Mali, Congo and Rwanda are doing.
For high-net-worth individuals in Africa, dual citizenship not only provides an open door to safety in the wake of the ongoing international health crisis but also ensures their families will have greater mobility, quality healthcare, and better education for generations to come.
It’s also a practical means of diversifying an investment portfolio, given that most citizenship and residency by investment programmes offer the opportunity to fund real estate projects, infrastructure, government bonds and even social impact projects like schools or NGOs.
In Africa, the need for a safer and brighter future struck a chord during the pandemic. Applications for second citizenships across Africa have increased by over 60 per cent since March 2020 as business people, entrepreneurs and wealthy individuals seek access to better healthcare, education, and vaccines.
The uptake of CBI/RBI programmes has been particularly popular in Nigeria.
Since 2016, applications across the continent have grown by 20 per cent every year, closely followed by South Africa and Kenya.
Before the pandemic, entrepreneurial Nigerians invested in CBI/RBI mostly for financial empowerment and to make their lives easier. They wanted to expand their business reach, enter new markets or diversify investments. In order to do that, they needed dual citizenship or a second residency that grants visa-free access to a greater percentage of the world.
Nigerian passports are extremely limiting, with visa-free access to just 20 destinations and visa-on-arrivals in 24. Citizens have been banned from Australia, Switzerland, South Korea and Hong Kong, among others, and need visas to enter major business hubs like the US, UK and Singapore.
In addition, holding a Nigerian passport makes relatively mundane tasks – like opening an international bank account or transferring funds abroad – extremely time-consuming and challenging, since the country is considered “high risk” for corruption, money laundering and scams.
From Business To Healthcare
When the pandemic emerged in 2020, motivations for dual citizenship shifted from business and mobility to healthcare. Wealthy Nigerians now worry about access to reliable healthcare, safety for their families, and education, as many schools in the country still have not resolved the challenges of online teaching.
And while vaccines are becoming available in other countries, they are still unavailable in Nigeria, as of 24 February 2021[iii].
In terms of investments, Nigerians are most interested in Caribbean CBI/RBI programmes such as Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Lucia. Grenada is the most popular programme at the moment due to its E-2 treaty with the US. Essentially, Grenadian citizens have the right to apply for a visa that enables them to live, stay, and work in the US as well as visa-free travel to over 125 countries, including Europe’s Schengen zone.
South Africans Explore Portugal Residency
South African passport holders have also rushed to apply for second passports during the pandemic. Since March 2020, there has been a 50 per cent increase in applications from South Africans.
The pandemic situation in South Africa has ranked among the worst in the world, recording one-third of all infections on the continent and becoming the epicentre of a highly infectious variant[iv]. The country has been in and out of strict lockdowns for the past year, only just starting its vaccination programme in small phases in early February. So far, the government has secured enough doses to inoculate just 10 per cent of the 59.62 million population[v].
South Africans have also been restricted by sweeping travel bans. Countries such as Spain, the US, Belgium, Germany, Australia, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Switzerland and more have temporarily banned South African travellers or restricted flights from the country.
Unlike Nigerians, however, South Africans are more interested in Portugal’s Golden Residence Permit Program[vi] than CBI/RBI options in the Caribbean, because they want to have the choice to live and work in Europe.
Investments in Portugal’s residency programme start from a minimum of €280,000. Applicants typically wait around nine months for their applications to process and, if approved, they will enjoy a visa waiver to live and work in Portugal, along with visa-free travel within the Schengen member states. After five years, temporary residents can then apply for permanent residency or citizenship. Upon approval, Portugal will grant a passport to the applicant and his or her immediate family members.
Steady Growth In Kenya
In Kenya, applications have remained steady throughout the pandemic. Its citizens also gravitate toward the residency programme in Portugal and the citizenship programme in Antigua and Barbuda. The Kenyan passport[vii] has visa-free access to 29 countries and visa-on-arrival in 30, compared with Antigua and Barbuda’s[viii] visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 139 countries in 2019, with visa-free destinations including the Schengen zone, the UK, Hong Kong and Singapore. Typically, the application process to the Caribbean nation takes just three to four months and costs between US$100,000 and US$1.5 million, depending on the nature of the investment.
In the next two to three years, it is expected that applications will continue to increase as more Africans learn about the possibilities of CBI/RBI and realise the importance of a backup plan in the face of travel bans, vaccine passports, business opportunities and overall safety.
Mr. Habila Malgwi is Vice President, Africa at Arton Capital. He specialises in Investment Banking, Citizenship by Investment and Business Development. Awards include Most Influential person of African Descent, Most Influential African under 40, Most Influential Young Nigerian, Excellence Award by Range Development, Top 6% African Business development expert.