Borders exist only for the poor and wanting. Such is the conclusion that emerges from a new report issued by the Migration Policy Institute last month. Entitled “Selling Visas and Citizenship: Policy Questions from the Global Boom in Investor Immigration”, the report lays out the parameters of the emerging market in citizenship sales around the world.
Admittedly, this is not an entirely new concept; several countries, including notably those in the Caribbean, have offered citizenship for sale for over 30 years. However, a global investment landscape and newly amassed private wealth in former developing countries like China and India has fuelled demand in citizenship for sale.
The result has been new developments in the market for purchasing nationalities with several countries competing in the bid to attract the world’s new rich.
Currently, half the countries in the European Union have “citizenship by investment” routes, and new programmes that allow investors to obtain citizenship have been inaugurated in the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Latvia and Spain.
In addition, small countries like Malta have also entered the citizenship-for-sale market, while the number of investors seeking citizenship via investment in the US has seen huge increases in 2014.
According to the report’s findings, the motivations of investors seeking these visas are varied.
First, they offer a way of sidestepping the delays and paperwork associated with traditional routes of immigration and allows investors to get to citizenship faster, hence giving their children an opportunity to be educated in these countries without having to pay international student fees.
Second, investor visas allow an insurance policy against the conditions in one’s own country, thus forming an escape route if the political situation or economic conditions deteriorate in one’s native land.
Other factors include the low tax rates offered by Caribbean nations like St. Kitts and Nevis and visa-free travel. The latter is a huge motivation for many in China whose citizens enjoy visa-free travel to only 40 countries.
If Chinese citizens obtain citizenship via investment in Malta, however, they can enjoy access to 140 countries without a visa, a factor that may be particularly attractive to investors who want to be able to travel easily and without the delays associated with visa processing.
In some countries, like Portugal, citizenship by investment is a means to regenerate their own economy following the financial collapse of 2008. Their programme is consequently based on the purchase of property in the country, with a single property investment of just above $500,000 making someone eligible for the programme.
The US and Singapore require business investments of half a million dollars and above. The UK requires a bond of over $1.5 million. One of the cheapest EU programmes currently available is that of Latvia, where 250,000 euros (US$312,925) can buy you a path to citizenship; a similar one is available in Hungary. For immediate benefits, several Caribbean nations require payments as little as $100,000.
The emerging market in citizenship reveals that countries seeking to come out of economic crises or even attempting to attract capital are now using the promise of instant belonging to lure investors. The example of countries like the UK that generate high yearly investment revenue from foreign investors is one that many would like to follow.
The emerging market in citizenship, however, also creates consequences for the ideas of belonging associated with citizenship; indeed, what does it mean to be a citizen of a particular country when a passport can be easily procured with the transfer of cash?
Furthermore, in the realm of the global labour market, where poor countries export skilled and unskilled labour to richer ones, it creates a class system of international workers.
Poor workers are relegated to the usual routes of immigration, visa quotas and the associated bureaucracies of exploitation etc., while the wealthy can immediately procure citizenship and enjoy benefits and protections that accompany it.
The cumulative message that the existence of a citizenship market portends is that at least for those who can access large amounts of wealth, constraints like borders no longer apply.
This post-national world of the wealthy is one where no questions are asked as to how the wealth is aggregated; it may be looted from the national coffers of poorer nations via any of the many circuitous routes of corruption or through the vagaries of political rise and fall.
To rich politicians of developing nations, Pakistan among them, this new market offers a great opportunity; they can amass wealth via their stints in power, even tout their patriotism by parading their own allegiance to their native passport, all the time knowing that money stored in offshore accounts will provide instant escapes for themselves and their family members.
The world is a big place, and if one has cash to flash, its arms are ever open and ever welcoming.
With the offers of citizenship as a market tactic that can be used to attract investors, the fruits of globalisation, unlimited mobility across borders, the ability to do business and amass worldly experience will now be available to two classes of people: those blessed by birth to be born in Western nations and those born rich anywhere.
Ironically, the citizens of poor and developing nations, those most invested in ideas of nationalism and poverty, will be most constrained by this emerging borderless world, imprisoned once by arbitrary lines drawn by old colonial masters and then again by poverty whose unyielding hold enables no escape.