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[Digest] Why citizenship is now a commodity

发布时间: 2017年06月04日    浏览次数: 527 次    编辑: 李秋雨

编者按:在当下,一方面,越来越多的人想要移民海外寻求机遇或安全;另一方面,反移民政策和边境管控日益严格。这两者共同促成了“国籍买卖”的兴起壮大。

On a recent flight, I came across an unusual advert promising “a unique strategy to safeguard your future prosperity and security.”

The advert was plugging what it called “citizenship by investment.”

As more countries tighten their borders and paths to immigration, a new industry is working to bypass those restrictions – for a hefty fee.

A desire to stay global

Investment citizenship programmes are not new. They’ve been around for decades, primarily as a way for countries to boost their incomes. Canada and the Caribbean island of St Kitts and Nevis started theirs in the 1980s and the US and UK began similar ones in the 1990s.

The specifics of different investment citizenship programmes vary by country. They allow foreigners to invest in real-estate projects and businesses, buy property, or to donate money directly to a country’s government in exchange for a visa or passport.

St. Kitts and Nevis launched its initiative in 1984, one year after the fledgling country claimed independence from the UK. The aim was to get more money flowing in from entrepreneurs who saw value in tropical beaches and low taxes.

It only attracted a few hundred participants in the beginning. But, by 2009, backed by a marketing campaign, passport holders of the island nation were given visa-free access to the 26 Schengen area countries and demand increased rapidly.

London-based CS Global Partners, the consultancy firm that made the inflight-magazine advert I read, shepherds investors through the legal process of procuring a passport through investment. The firm says interest in their services has grown fourfold in the past year.

We are definitely seeing big shifts,” says CEO Micha Emmett. “The traditional market still exists – very much so – but we’ve seen people from countries that were never interested in second citizenship by investment options before now coming online making inquiries. For example, we saw a 400% increase in enquiries from Turkey in March.”

Citizenship: a hot commodity

The most well-known programmes are in the Caribbean, where white sand beaches, low investment minimums, non-restrictive residency requirements and quick processing times combine to attract investors.

For example, to become a citizen of the Caribbean island of Dominica, which sits between Guadeloupe and Martinique, you’ll need an investment of $100,000, with no requirement to spend any time on the island and no wait-time.

And, such programmes are important economic drivers. In St. Kitts and Nevis, passports are the country’s largest export and the money generated from the programme is seen as responsible for lifting the nation out of debt and fuelling a construction boom.

The IMF says Citizenship by investment programmes amounted to 14% of St Kitt’s GDP in 2014, and other estimates say the programme may have accounted for as much as 30% of the government’s revenue in 2015.

But increasingly, richer countries are offering 'citizenship for a price'. Comparable programmes in New Zealand cost NZ$1.5m ($1.06m) – a popular move among Silicon Valley’s tech elite recently – or £2m ($2.58m) for the UK and $500,000 for the US.

Joseph says the EB-5 programme is hugely valuable for the country, delivering over $1 billion dollars to the US economy each quarter.

We’ve seen exponential growth since the financial crisis in 2008 to the tune of an increase of over 1,200% from 2008 until today,” he says.

Increased interest in the US programme is due in part to the relatively stable economy and safe investment environment, but also thanks to the low investment minimum. The EB-5 programme requires the $500,000 to be invested areas lacking jobs and cash, but critics argue the low minimum is a loophole being exploited by developers.

Although the US caps the total number of visas granted each year through the programme to 10,000, the number of applicants has no limit. Interest, it seems, doesn’t either. “There are currently over 23,000 investor petitions for a visa number.” Joseph says, “That’s just how many that are pending right now.”

Your country for sale

Such programmes aren’t without controversy.

Afterall, should citizenship be for sale? Detractors say no.

Earlier this year in the US, two senators, Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Grassley, introduced a bill to get rid of the EB-5 programme, arguing that it is too flawed to continue.

It is wrong to have a special pathway to citizenship for the wealthy while millions wait in line for visas," Feinstein said.

Detractors also argue these programmes unfairly favour the rich and are unattainable for everyone else. They also cite concerns about money laundering, criminal activity and backdoor access to countries that circumvent normal immigration systems.

Indeed, the intersection of large sums of money and international real estate deals is ripe for fraud.Just this month an FBI Investigation uncovered a $50 million visa fraud operation involving Chinese investors in the EB-5 programme.

The St. Kitts and Nevis programme ran into trouble with the US Treasury Department when suspected Iranian operatives were caught using their St. Kitts passports to launder money for banks in Tehran in violation of US Sanctions.

But in a world where borders are closing, demand for these services will most likely continue to grow, experts say.

Paul William’s advice for UK Citizenswho are anxious about Brexit? Hold tight.

Things are uncertain, but they can’t do anything about it now since they are still European residents,” he says. “In two years time, if the UK does end up with the same access to the EU as America, say, then a lot of people will be wanting to do something.”

附:原文链接:

http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20170530-why-citizenship-is-now-a-commodity

 

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