The demand for citizenship by investment and UAE Golden Visas is booming as residents and companies seek greener pastures amid rising global inflation rates and an uncertain economic landscape.
Though many European, Caribbean and North American countries offer robust citizenship by investment programmes to high net-worth and ultra-high net-worth individuals, UAE’s Golden Visas are fast becoming a goldmine for foreign investors, say immigration consultancies.
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 demand for the ten-year residence visa is almost at par with the demand for second passports from countries overseas.
For example, many Americans who visited Dubai either for Expo 2020, to expand business propositions, or to flee restrictive COVID-19 measures are now giving more significant consideration to building a base in the UAE, said Shai Zamanian, US-licensed lawyer, EB-5 expert and director of the American Legal Center in Dubai.
The US Golden Visa appears to be expensive upon first glance. The Investment amount is $800,000 locked in for five years. However, investors would be eligible to receive those funds back after about a five or six year period.
“Many Americans arrive with means and see the value in investing in the UAE economy and being rewarded with the Golden Visa. We expect a high volume of foreign direct investment built upon UAE initiatives. But once the dollar floods in, so will the volume of Golden Visas for American nationals,” said Zamanian.
The UAE Golden Visa, which costs $136,000 for investors, is still a much cheaper option than the Portuguese citizenship by investment programme, which costs $280,000. The investment amount for the US is $800,000, locked in for five years.
Certain Caribbean countries are also conducting comprehensive reviews of their programmes, aiming to reduce costs and processing times for applicants. St Lucia announced this month that they are reducing the minimum investment for their real estate option by 33 per cent, bringing it down from $300,000 to $200,000, and St Kitts and Nevis will reduce their government contribution with their ‘Limited Time Offer’ from $150,000 to $125,000 until June 30.
Preeya Malik, the Director at STEP Global, said: “For CBI (citizenship by investment) programmes, interest has been rising in these over the last seven to eight years at approximately 30 per cent annually. Some years less and some years show more interest, depending on immigration policy.”
Citizenship by investment plans have been growing in demand on a year-on-year basis post-pandemic. And this is despite talks of a looming recession and other global headwinds.
She added, “2021 was one of our best years in terms of application rates. However, globally there was only a slight uptick (maybe 15 per cent) from 2020, which was lower than the typical increase we have seen year to year in other years. In 2019 the application numbers for EB-5 were so high from Indian nationals it has now caused a backlog in processing time which is currently being cleared.”
CBI programmes are for everyone
The increase in interest in Golden Visas and CBI programmes came from market disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The programmes are even growing in popularity among individuals in the mid to high-income brackets, said Sebastian Michael, Director of Uno Capital.
“The investment migration industry has grown globally from $2.9 billion in 2011 to $21.4 billion in 2022, and we are happy to receive more inquiries year-on-year,” said Mimoun A. Assraoui, RIF Trust’s CEO and Latitude Group’s Vice Chairman.
The UAE is an extremely attractive destination for High-Net-Worth-Individuals and an international business hub for investors and entrepreneurs. The demand for residency and citizenship programmes continues to grow among UAE’s residents.
“In the past three years, we have noticed that inquiries are increasing steadily a minimum of 23 per cent year on year, especially after the global pandemic where we received a surge of applications,” said Assraoui.
“The pandemic has been a catalyst pushing people towards getting a second passport. It pushed the trend for people to look at options and explore various programmes,” said Michael. Pre-pandemic CBI programmes were considered an option only for the ultra-rich. However, that is not the case anymore.
“It is not necessarily an expensive affair. For example, programmes offered by Caribbean countries provide citizenship to applicants who make a real estate investment of about $100,000. Real estate investments are something that you can liquidate. They have huge capital gains, and investors can earn rental income. The programmes are more of an investment into their future than an expenditure,” explained Michael.
Due to the high volume of demand, Uno Capital will be setting up a new division to cater exclusively to applicants seeking UAE Golden visas by next month. We are seeing huge demand from Indian and African markets.
Last year, Uno Capital facilitated $27 million worth of investment towards Turkey and the Caribbean, and in 2020, its application numbers grew by 600 per cent. Immigration consultants are also seeing a rising trend of UAE residents using their second citizenship as a ‘security blanket’. “Many continue to live in the UAE even after they’ve received a second passport,” he said.
Lizzie Edwards, Marketing Manager of LA Vida Golden Visas, said: “The UAE has always been a large market for us, but our clients from UAE have doubled since 2019. We typically see an increase in demand for Golden Visas when geopolitical issues arise, as uncertainty increases the requirement/desire for a ‘plan B’ residency or passport.” She added, “UAE residents are becoming far more conversant with dealing with companies virtually outside the emirates.”
Rush for talent
Nations with citizenship programmes want to bring more talent into their countries with the help of these opportunities. Philippe Amarante, Managing Partner and Head of Henley and Partners Private Clients in Dubai and Pakistan, said, “More and more countries are also launching their programmes to welcome talent into their nations.”
We are witnessing overall increased client interest of 45 per cent 2022 vs 2021 and a 145 per cent increase over 2019. This proves that the pandemic and lockdowns supports the assumption of investment migration becoming mainstream.
Amarante said that post-pandemic countries faced a lack of revenue for fiscal policies and state budgets. “These programmes boost the economy. It has become something of a war for talent,” he added.
Who is opting for a second citizenship?
The demand for residency and citizenship programmes continues to grow among UAE’s residents, said Assraoui. “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,” he said.
Amarante said the largest cohort are US citizens looking at moving to the Caribbean. “GCC residents from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russian, Pakistan and India are among some of our more popular clients,” he said.
Inquiries are increasing from individuals from across the Middle East such as Syrians, Iraqi, Lebanese, Yemeni, Iranians, and Egyptians as well as from Africa including Moroccans, Algerians, South Africans, and Nigerians. “Our client’s range between 30 to 65 and come from a diverse professional and industry background,” said Assraoui.