When I returned to Trinidad in the late 90s, I worked with a Cornell educated Economist who told me to keep an eye on the market for citizenship. It wasn’t long before I realized that the phenomena were more than something from a spy movie.
Henley and Partners citizenship expert Christian Kalin, who helps to advise clients on the best place to spend their money, estimates that every year, several thousand people spend a collective $2bn (£1.2bn; 1.5bn euros) to add a second or even third passport to their collection.
“Just like you diversify an investment portfolio, you want to diversify your passport portfolio,” he says. The option has proven popular with Chinese and Russian citizens and those from the Middle East.
In recent years, programs have been introduced in St Kitts, Cyprus, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Malta, the Netherlands, and Spain that either allow direct citizenship by investment or offer citizenship routes, wealthy investors.
By far, the cheapest deal for citizenship is on the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica. For an investment of $100,000 plus various fees, as well as an in-person interview on the island, citizenship can be bought.
But while the media tends to pay special attention to initiatives in the Caribbean, they may be missing what’s happening in the US. Let’s talk about the EB-5 immigrant investor program. When Congress seems unable to agree about anything, this program, known as EB-5, was reauthorized in September 2012 in the House of Representatives by a vote of 412-3. The investment requirement is typically the US $1,000,000 per foreign investor. A minimum of US $500,000 is accepted if the investment is made in a designated Target Employment Area, such as a rural or high unemployment area, and through a designated EB-5 Regional Center. If you like the Caribbean, Puerto Rico is a Target Employment Area, and therefore approved projects offered there require only a minimum of $500,000 in investment by the foreign investor.
Upon investing, the foreign investor gains the opportunity to become a conditional resident of the United States for a period of two years. This residency status is often referred to as having a conditional Green Card.
Upon meeting the job creation requirement, conditionality is removed, and the foreign investor becomes the holder of a permanent residency, i.e., a Green Card with no conditions attached.
After five years of holding a conditional residency/Green Card, the foreign investor can apply for U.S. citizenship. There is no obligation to remain in the United States continuously as a conditional or permanent resident to apply to become a citizen, i.e., travel is possible, but residence in the United States must be maintained during that time. (It is critical to speak with an immigration attorney for applicable procedures and other specifics)
Immigrant investors may include their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 in their EB-5 application under the same US $500,000 investment.
The EB-5 isn’t limited to Puerto Rico. The federal government has approved some 630 regional centers across the country.