[ HTJ Podcast ] Talk with Dominic – Managing Partner of a leading Economic Migration Firm
Hanna: Hi, my name is Hannah, and today we're interviewing Dominic based in Singapore. Dominic is a managing partner of one of the world's leading consulting firms that provide residents and citizenship of planning and advice for high-net-worth individuals. Today, he gives us his view on key trends that require our attention as we emerge into the post-pandemic world.
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Derren Joseph: Good evening, Dominic, how are you today?
Dominic Volek: I’m pretty good. How are you?
Derren Joseph: Fantastic. Thanks for sharing your time. I know you're a super busy guy. So please, could you introduce yourself?
Dominic Volek: Yeah, so my name's Dominic Volek, I'm the managing partner for Henley and Partners. I'm based here in Singapore. I was also the head of Southeast Asia for the firm. So looking after a couple of offices in the region, and then even our group head of sales. So very much involved with our other offices on a more global perspective from Canada down to Cape Town, London, Dubai, through to Hong Kong. So that's the role., and we as a firm, we are specialists in residence and citizenship planning. So we specialize in what we need here in two parts of the business. So one is advising private clients. These are the high net worth ultra-high net worth individuals and their families with how-to and where to obtain a residence by investment or citizenship by investments. Of course, a number of countries around the world have these investment migration programs that can be very attractive for wealthy people. And the other part of the business has governance advice three. So I'm also very much involved in that side of the field strategically or advising governments on designing and implementing these programs and things. I think what we've already seen is an increase, but something that's going to pick up significantly now, I believe, in the post-pandemic world.
Derren Joseph: Absolutely. And that's why I guess the conversation with you is one that I was looking forward to because not just for some of my clients and people in my network, but I’ve also felt the impact of being displaced due to disruptions.
So I've ever shared with you before we started, and I've been living in Singapore for the last seven years, and I just popped over to Indonesia for what I thought was like a three-day business trip. And I'm locked down in Singapore. And I guess if I did not have other options, it would have been uncomfortable given flight cancellations and whatever. So, I take your point. I would imagine that there's a definite upswing in demand for these services. Not just for plan B's and Plan C's, but also in terms of healthcare. Maybe if you're a high net-worth person in a jurisdiction where healthcare may not be the best, you have your plan B or your new planning to be somewhere where this society can deal with this. This is just what I imagined. Well, I mean, you want a professional learning leader in this space. So what does this mean to your industry?
Dominic Volek: There's certainly been a shift in, in terms of our clients, the motive. So the investment migration industry has always been driven by the lifestyle benefits, the travel freedom that having a second passport can give you, if you weren't lucky enough to be born with a strong passport, from a travel perspective. And of course, you know, the Coronaviruses have thrown out the window because you can have a Singapore or Japanese passport, which is the best in the world, but you cannot use it because of the lockdown. I think that the motive will certainly come back. You know, once you, once things clear up, your quotes will open businesses will be able to back travel again. A particular element of having these types of meetings now will become more common in doing things online. Still, in specific industries and certain businesses, you cannot beat it face-to-face meetings, never will come back. So I think our clients’ travel freedom objectives are for now, and as you said now, what's coming to the forefront is the number one option.
That's always been an option. Wealthy people like to have a hedge against everything, you know, from political and economic consultancy. And so that's always been a driver, but certainly, if we have dual citizenship, if you have permanent residents or residence in two or three countries, that gives you options. And that's what a lot of the wealthy are looking for. And particularly on the healthcare we saw, as soon as this started to kick off in Singapore, Singapore is world-renowned for the healthcare systems, but in London, the wealthy guys from some of our neighbors were fine to make sure.
And again, if they had done their resident's planning upfront, they could have done a global investor program in Singapore. They would have put a permanent resident card here. They could get in. And now the other interesting thing we see is particularly out of the US in places like Silicon Valley. I’m sure you've read some of the articles where they also had this sort of pandemic planning in place. Many of them will have taken parts of me that maybe go to form, and the isolation or motors of those jurisdictions is now also seen as detractions. Indeed, many clients are looking at, you know, what's available in investment migration.
And now for the first time, the question is, you know, what is academic preparedness? What's their response be like, you've got this, even as soon as the shining lights in terms of what countries have done. And of course, other countries, you know, potentially the US, the UK are not, not fearing as well, although they do still have interesting investor migration programs. So let's say we've certainly seen a shift in interest. The typical reason why clients come to us, they are still there. We do have some that sort of in a, in white, and hold the position until things open up the nature of some of the countries where there often are programs that mainly Europe, the Portugal golden resonance, Cyprus, Malta.
At some point in the application process, most of those countries require the clients to physically go there to buy a matrix, to open bank accounts, whatever might be required. And of course, now, you know, the client says.
Derren Joseph: Okay, so I get the point that there's a shift in motivation. But does that also translate into a shift in terms of destinations? The clients tend to look at plan B. So, is it that Australia and New Zealand are going to end up climbing the rankings in terms of desirability as opposed to other jurisdictions?
Dominic Volek: Yeah, I mean, you know, there are many studies regarding the migration of harmony with individuals. Australia has, for probably the last four to five years, always been the number one destination. If you look at why wealthy people want to use an investor visa to move to another jurisdiction, it's education, healthcare, transport systems, security, and clean air. So Australia takes a lot of those boxes as does New Zealand, the US, Canada. So those four have always been the traditional lockets.
I think if anything that’s happening now has certainly even increased their attractiveness. I think that's a common theme. Even random women in Australia, New Zealand, had a huge sign up for those lots of interest. And again, I had an introduction from another world and not just today asking about the premium invested visa to Australia. So we'll undoubtedly see more interest on some of the markets that also on the typical markets, we have our clients. Because travel freedom is always the main driver, its clients from China, India, Indonesia, where their passports are not good from the travel perspective.
Now the knocks of Australia, New Zealand, you got a big family from Zurich, looking at New Zealand, the US, and the UK. These do not sort of typical hunting grounds in terms of clients. And for those people, those destinations are certainly coming to the fore.
Derren Joseph: Okay, I understand. I get the US because some people don't cook them though, the politics or whatever, but Europe and particularly like Switzerland, I would have thought it was more like a destination than a source country. Is that a trend or one-offs?
Dominic Volek: I wouldn't say it's a trend, but I would say there's a handful each year that sees it as a sort of bolt hole solution. You know, we have had some that, you know, the New Zealand programs are interesting for a few reasons once the top end program is the investor one category. I have 10 million New Zealand on investment, and it's quite flexible in terms of what that can go into as long as it's not for some of your personal use.
You do have a handful that sees it as the ultimate sort of doomsday scenario trend. You got invested into a commercial farm, that farm is sort of self-sufficient in terms of food, water, it's off the grid in terms of electricity, it's completely isolated. And with that category and the investor, the family only needs to spend about 44 days a year and a half for three years.
And after three years, they get permanent residency in New Zealand. And the great thing about that is then it is permanent. There are no renewal requirements, nothing. You do a month, and a half or three years, you've got the investment into something that's giving you a return, and then you can still live in a slip something in the US whenever you want. But in a scenario, as we find ourselves now, it's possible to get on a plane and be very far away from everything.
Derren Joseph: Understood. What about in terms of UK Brexit, How is it impacting this picture?
Dominic Volek: To be honest, our industry is great. Whether it's something horrible or something, maybe Brexit's argument is horrible for some people because of any global events. But anything like that increases interest because the most significant impact Brexit has from a lot of our client's perspective is as a UK citizen, part of the EU, I can settle anywhere in the European Union. So they're not losing 27, tier-one European countries where they can no longer go at and work and retire without having to worry about other visas and permits on it.
There are retirement plans there. Even if they're not necessarily ultra-high net worth, when they can sort of play in the Malta and Cyprus space, it ranges from a million to two and a half million euros. In Greece, you can do it for 250,000 euros. You can buy an apartment in FMs, or even on one of the islands. The whole process takes about three months. You get permanent residents in Greece, and that gives you that access again. So I think from a UK citizen perspective, it's, it's good for the industry because now they're interested in things that they wouldn't test beforehand. After all, they didn't have to be and vice versa. You know, we've had many clients that previously would have done Malta or Cyprus have gone through some process to get EU citizenship on the premise that they could then go and settle in the UK. So that's now not possible, particularly they're not settled there within the settlement period, but of course, the UK has been tier one investor visa, which is still an option. I know you have a lot of clients who want to be based in the UK. As I've always said, all the clients we've done out of Southeast Asia that have done either Malta or Cyprus, very few like 95% are still in Jakarta, and KL and Bangkok have moved to London.
So they're installed. Of course, it's usually the focus on the kids' education. The value of a tier-one investor visa as a 2 million pound investment into the UK registered actively trading companies. So that can go into Vodafone shares or Unilever something like that. So they're still very much on the table. And as I said, London is always a destination for a lot of wealthy people from Asia. And a lot of our clients use it just for the kids. Instead of sending the children, which many of these families like to do, send the kids to the UK.
They typically do that on tier four student visas. The student visa doesn't count towards them becoming a permanent residence. You know, you've got to be there under a different category wave possible. And we do this in Australia, in the US as well with the EB5. It’s often better to save the kids as long as they're 18. And they're sort of going for the tertiary education is to send them over on an investor visa. So the UK is a classic example. The parents can give the 2 million pounds to the child invested with big banks into an investment portfolio. And the child is then starting to study on a visit visa when it's finished off the five years. He’s then eligible to get permanent residence, which is indefinite leave to remain. And he can apply for citizenship as well.
Derren Joseph: Understood. I got it. You have mentioned the US, is there a dampening of demand for the US, or is it still steady for you, or was it on the upswing? How’s it looking?
Dominic Volek: I think that the law is always there, but the process is what's making it very difficult, particularly for places like China and India, that's where you're Vietnam, that's what you typically see the biggest and wrong.
If we're talking about just the EB5 program, I think it's still very attractive, even though they've increased the investment amounts while yeah. There are some times and suits and T about it's under the current administration, but I think the demand and the interest are there, but the reality is, you know, we're doing a lot in India. Now, if you're an Indian citizen and you want to start that process is probably going to take four to five years before you can go. If you're Chinese, you're looking at probably 14 to 15 years.
Derren Joseph: Wow.
Dominik Volek: That's a long sort of horizon. And the nice thing, of course, in the investment migration industry is this there are other routes to the US. The US has a very interesting E2 investor visa. It’s not that well known. Interesting for clients in Asia because the E2 is only available to E2 treaty member countries with the US. And of course, India, China, these places are not E2 members. If you look in the investment migration space, now there are three countries.
So Grenada in the Caribbean, Montenegro, and Turkey. So all three have citizenship by investment programs, wake up, I can invest and become a citizen, and they are E2 treaty members. So I can first sort of process. Grenada is typically done in the Caribbean because you can get it at a five-year validity if the client would first become a Grenada citizen. That takes roughly six months would be about either a $200,000 donation to the government or about 220,000 into the property.
And then as it were native citizens, they can apply for the E2. It's a non-immigrant visa. So it's not going to give them a green card and citizenship, which some cons prefer you don't automatically fall under the text nets and miss you're spending six months there. Still, you can go and live in the US. You can start a business with the E2 investment, and the kids can study, and you can move to the US to take a Chinese family. Who's going to take 15 years under EB5. Or can do for Grenada or Montenegro to E2 combinations and do it in under a year.
Derren Joseph: Wow. What about the Caribbean? I've seen some press that certain islands are discounting the donation and getting more clients.
Dominic Volek: This often happens typically on the back of sort of the hurricane seasons. You know, these islands unfortunately often get quite badly affected when these hurricanes come through. So a lot of the lane to sort of discounting process happened back in, when was it? 2016, 2017.
We effectively cut some of the islands in our cut that donation amounts in half. So they used to all roughly be around 200 marks. Now they want some of the need between sort of a hundred to $150,000, depending on the family’s size. And probably the most interesting one that's come out of the Caribbean of the latest is in St. Lucia. So St. Lucia just in rounds that they've always had a government bond, the option, which wasn't very attractive. They pretty much had no clients that did it, but there was a half a million bond that now holds that requirement to 250, and it's a specific COVID-19 bond that the client can invest in for five years to acquire citizenship.
Some of these countries are becoming a bit innovative and reacting to what's happening because of the pandemic. And of course, they can raise significant foreign direct investments through these programs. I was talking to another woman earlier about this concept of sovereign equity. So usually, and we'll see this more. And one of these pandemics is big support packages coming out from all the governments you've seen in Singapore, the UK, and Sydney. And that will continue to happen as the pandemic sort of effects are felt.
I think more and more countries are burned out. Either those that have investment migration programs will make adjustments. You'll be. So it's an enormous call of the requirements, and it's easy, they've got one of these golden visa programs. And certainly, we can see on our government's advisory side that many governments and countries are now starting to look at these programs. And if they're structured correctly, the due diligence is really at a very high level. As I said, why go and raise more debt levels around the world? Why not just top over $255 trillion when you have a huge population of high net worth worldwide and are willing to inject this sort of direct influence into countries, creating sovereign equity instead of debt in exchange for either residence? Or citizenship in that country.
Derren Joseph: Okay. That's fair enough. We’ve to reach various jurisdictions treated with the pandemic. Do you see it having an impact? So, for example, an M2H Malaysia, even though a long-term resident of Malaysia, when things got locked down, you could get back in if you were a citizen. But some of them too, as people were stranded outside of their homes, and similarly, people that have been in Singapore for a long time weren't allowed back in at certain points in time.
So, as a result of that, do see that potential. And then I'm just using those two as an example, but would that be a decisive factor? Going forward, bearing in mind that many speculate that we will have subsequent waves and probably like a year to two off from some sort of vaccine. So the cycle of rock down, open up, locked down, open up will continue. What are your thoughts on that?
Dominic Volek: The key thing is most migration successful programs in the world, but typically providing either citizenship, which you don't have this. If you look at, if you take the M2H as an example in Malaysia, you know, it's not a resident permit, it's a long-term visit pass. It's a stamp on your passport that allows you to live there. So it's not a permanent residence. It's never going to need your permanent residence. It's never going to need citizenship. Those are more common in the States. And increasingly, in towns like this and affords you more protection from that state, citizenship is always going to be the preferred option. And if you're in nodule citizenship, you should certainly get it.
You know, we have a lot of cons, of course, that we're sort of sitting on the fence and waiting, and now they realize we should have done it when we could have. Wasn't just us trying to push them to be a client? So citizenship is always going to be an obese state. I mean, if I look at myself, you know, as if it's not Africa or not Singapore, and back in South Africa, they have a very strict lockdown. Still, if I have multiple citizenships, I have the whole view of Europe I can technically back into, with certain federal side restrictions.
So not all these programs are designed the same. So some are more suited to a long-term visit. Some are more of a tourist visa that they provide. And the real attraction is always citizenship: number one, born, and residence. Number two, temporary residents meet up to those positions because, as I say, we've been given a lot more protection from the state and much more support. And that's if you are a citizen and if not, then it needs the permanent resident.
Derren Joseph: Okay. That's great. My final question is this when I go online. There are just so many options when anyone goes online because this industry essentially feels unregulated for want of a better word. So if I am a potential customer and somebody looking at this, how do I decide which firms I could probably stay away from? And which firms are probably the best to work with?
Dominic Volek: Yeah, it's one of the big challenges of the industry, not just us as sort of one of the leaders in this space, it is not regulated. And it's in an unregulated industry, and they do not necessarily act in the client's interest. They're trying to like a quick buck. They’re probably running the media in a year or two's time. So we are very pro-regulation, meaning we've structured ourselves to align with private banks, and it didn't work. We have very strict onboarding policies for clients—all of these types of things.
If you say, if you got a lot, there's plenty of these small competitors. I mean the usual thing, check their tracks, do they have offices in all these jurisdictions and teas that they can assist you with. They registered in the Caribbean, you can go on to the official government websites, and you can see who the registered agents are. Same thing, places like Montenegro and Cyprus and Malta. It's very clear who is licensed, do these things you don't want to be dealing with fraud. And the middle man was then dealing with another agent and then getting another law firm.
And so we built ourselves a very large global footprint of 50 offices to them. We can control the whole process from A to Z. The other end, the other thing to look at because there's no regulation and a lot of this sort of thing, keep the good players brought together. So whether it was one of those, once you get there, instead of listening, we need to have some sort of one for the profit that ensures a certain level of ethics, practice principles interpolation in the image on the back of that Kenya migration panels, migration council.
And it's based out of Geneva. It’s a nonprofit, but it's very much at the forefront of making sure that, whoever the members are or acting in a very certain way, and wards putting the client doesn't want to deal with Henley for whatever reason. Then maybe just have a look and chief that these guys are at least members of any other body like the IMC because they did notice a certain level of service. You're going to get just some lines. We've got a website and a picture of a beach in the Caribbean.
Derren Joseph: That’s it. Dominic, thank you for your time.