The number of applications among America’s “one percent” for obtaining secondary citizenship or residency in foreign nations has drastically increased over the past three years.
Multiple investment migration firms revealed to Insider that many of America’s wealthiest citizens (i.e., U.S. billionaires, celebrities and tech entrepreneurs) are seeking to create a “Plan B” for themselves and their families, should living in the U.S. become less than ideal.
The reasons? Besides the obvious COVID-19 scenario, applicants are pointing to the proximate unknowns associated with climate change’s progression and escalating political divisions.
They’re doing so using avenues open only to the ultra-rich. According to La Vida Golden Visas, 15 countries scattered across Europe and the Caribbean (and, incidentally, the U.S.) offer “citizenship by investment” (CBI) programs, otherwise known as “Golden Passports” or “Golden Visas”.
These are programs through which flush foreigners can essentially buy citizenship or residency permits for themselves and their families by investing a certain amount into the infrastructure of said country. Minimum investment amounts currently range anywhere from $100,000 to $9.5 million, depending upon the country.
“We see these programs as an insurance policy,” said Ezzedeen Soleiman, a Managing Partner at Latitude. “We’ve had some billionaires approach us and ask what’s the best place to live if there’s a climate catastrophe, or if there’s another storm, or another global pandemic.”
Latitude Residency & Citizenship is a broker that guides affluent investors around the globe through the process of applying for second, and even third, citizenship. The company told Insider that inquiries into CBI programs grew by 300 percent between 2019 and 2021.
Henley & Partners, a leading global citizenship and residence advisory firm, similarly said that CBI sales to American nationals rose by 327 percent between 2019 and 2020, and then by a further 10 percent in 2021.
Dominic Volek, Group Head of Private Clients at Henley & Partners, encapsulated the driving forces behind this surge in investor citizenship, calling them the “four C’s”: COVID-19, climate change, cryptocurrency and conflict. He also disclosed that the spike in applications from moneyed Americans began during the Trump administration, and intensified amid pandemic lockdowns.
“In the very strict lockdowns, there was a point where if you only had an American passport, you could not enter Europe,” Volek said. “I think that made a lot of particularly ultra-high net worth individuals realize that they’re potentially a little bit more fragile than they thought.”
While the U.S. passport was still ranked the world’s most powerful by immigration investment consultancy firm Global Citizen Solutions at the end of 2021, a 2022 ranking released by Henley & Partners saw the American passport tied for sixth place, on the basis of its ability to grant holders visa-free access to 186 foreign countries.
Reaz Jafri, CEO of citizenship and residency consultancy Dasein Advisors, told Insider that he has fielded more inquiries from high-net-worth Americans in the past three years than in the preceding 20 years combined.
He said his U.S. clientele consists primarily of individuals whose money comes from tech, real estate or crypto, and who are worth anywhere from $50 million to $20 billion. According to Jafri, wealthy clients who span the political spectrum have something in common—a deep-seated worry about what’s in store for the future of American society.
“We’ve all lived through the past two and a half years,” Jafri said. “It all just reminded us how vulnerable and frail we are, and people who have means are accepting that it will happen again—and they don’t want to be caught off guard.”