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Investors are racing to safeguard their access to global markets, triggering an explosive boom in residency and citizenship-by-investment industries globally. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: High net-worth individuals living in the UAE are not only seeking the country’s coveted Golden Visas but are also applying for a second -- and sometimes even a third – passport as economies brace for a rebound.

And with 4,500 new millionaires expected to arrive in the UAE this year (according to Henley Private Wealth Migration Report), the demand for Golden Visas is only likely to surge.

In some cases, the demand for UAE’s ten-year residence visa has surpassed the demand for second passports from countries overseas as more real estate developers are lining up off-plan launches targeted at investors wanting to take the Golden Visa route, heads of immigration consultancies have said.

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Investors are racing to safeguard their access to global markets in this situation, triggering an explosive boom in residency and citizenship-by-investment industries worldwide, said Veronica Cotdemiey, the CEO of Citizenship Invest.

Golden Visa demand skyrockets

According to international residence and citizenship advisory firm Henley and Partners, the UAE is expected to attract the second-highest net inflow of HNWIs in 2023. While it is a drop from its record-breaking influx in 2022, the UAE is still likely to enjoy an impressive net arrival of 4,500 new millionaires this year, according to the Henley Private Wealth Migration Report.

And investors could be coming in from all over, including the US. Shai Zamanian, US-licensed lawyer, EB-5 expert and director of the American Legal Center in Dubai, anticipates a significant influx of American investors who recognise the potential to contribute to the UAE economy and reap the rewards of the Golden Visa. “With an expected surge in foreign direct investment, the number of Golden Visas granted to American nationals is likely to soar alongside the influx of capital,” he said.

And as some of the EU nations phased out their Golden Visa programmes or tightened real estate investment rules for citizenship seekers (Greece and Portugal) earlier this year, it led to an increase in demand for UAE Golden Visas from cash-rich Indians as well. Moreover, immigration consultants have many UAE residents use their second citizenship as a ‘security blanket’ as many continue to live in the UAE even after they’ve received a second passport.

Everyone wants a second passport

The pandemic, the looming recession, and the Russian-Ukraine war have served as a wake-up call for many wealthy individuals. “Even those with well-established passports are not immune to travel restrictions and other obstacles. The demand for these coveted passports and residences is undeniable this year and even the next year,” said Veronica.

She said: “Our data shows a 63 per cent increase in the number of applications for second citizenship from residents of the UAE in 2022 compared to 2021 and a 36 per cent increase in 2023 compared to 2022, respectively.”

This only shows that threats of restrictions and tighter financial policies worldwide will continue the demand for second citizenship among investors, said Veronica.

Dr Juerg Steffen, CEO of Henley and Partners, said: “In general, wealth migration trends look set to revert to pre-pandemic patterns this year, with Australia reclaiming the top spot for net inflows.”

The company received the highest number of investment migration program enquiries on record in the first quarter of 2023 — an increase of 36 per cent compared to the previous quarter and 47 per cent higher than the same period in 2022, a record-breaking year.

How expensive are a second passport, Golden Visa?

Compared to the Portuguese citizenship by investment program, which carries a price tag of $280,000, the UAE Golden Visa remains an attractive option for investors starting at Dh2 million. Meanwhile, the US programme requires a higher investment of $800,000, which must be held for five years.

Certain Caribbean countries undergo comprehensive evaluations of their programmes to enhance their competitiveness, aiming to reduce expenses and streamline processing times for applicants. St Lucia, for example, recently announced a 33 per cent reduction in the minimum investment for their real estate option, lowering it from $300,000 to $200,000.

St Kitts and Nevis also offer a ‘limited time offer’ by reducing their government contribution from $150,000 to $125,000 until June 30.

Who is driving the demand?

The top two nationalities currently driving demand are Indians and Americans, with Britons and South Africans remaining in the top 10 as they have done for the last five years.

“Wealthy individuals from countries such as Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Egypt are increasingly exploring Residency and Citizenship by Investment programmes to secure their family’s future with a modern day ‘Plan B’s,” said Mimoun A Assraoui, RIF Trust’s CEO and Latitude Group’s Vice Chairman.

Similarly, Veronica of Citizenship Invest has the top nationalities based in the UAE and the GCC who invest the most in second passports are Syrians, Lebanese and Pakistanis.

“Based on our internal data, Syrians comprise 21.54 per cent of total applications, Lebanese at 15.38 per cent and Pakistanis at 7.6 per cent, respectively,” she explained.