A traveller presents her passport at an airport check-in counter. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: There has been a huge increase in the number of wealthy expatriate residents in the UAE who are willing to spend hundreds of thousands to millions dirhams in exchange for a second passport -- and the privilege to travel the world freely -- despite allegations of fraud against some immigration firms.

In 2018, requests made in the UAE to obtain an alternative citizenship went up by 30 per cent compared to the previous year, according to Citizenship Invest, a Dubai-based company.

The bulk of these applications are from Asian and Middle Eastern nationals residing in the UAE, with Syrians topping the list and accounting for 14 per cent of total demand.

Many Pakistani nationals are also interested in acquiring residency rights from other countries, with their applications accounting for 12 per cent, followed by Indian residents at ten per cent and Egyptians at nine per cent.

Gulf News reported this month that some agencies that facilitate applications for Caribbean passports have been accused of forging documents and circumventing legal requirements to obtain a citizenship.

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Second passports, particularly those that provide visa-free entry to over a hundred destinations, including those in the Schengen and European Union states, have gained popularity in recent years.

They don’t just enable holders to enjoy much more global mobility or travel freedom, but tax privileges and better security as well. They are particularly in demand among citizens in certain countries who face a lot of passport restrictions

Second passports are being offered by countries like Cyprus, Malta and those in the Caribbean in exchange for an investment in the local economy, including real estate.

Many of such programmes enable investors to legally obtain residency or citizenship rights in less than six months without having to move outside the UAE, but they come with a hefty cost, and in many cases, an applicant needs to set aside between Dh360,000 to more than Dh5 million.

According to Citizenship Invest, second passports remain an attractive option for many foreigners based in the UAE, especially since some states offering alternative citizenship have slashed their fees.

Veronica Cotdemiey, CEO of Citizenship Invest, said that while the Caribbean citizenship programmes are still popular, many applicants in the UAE are also exploring options in other countries, such as Moldova and Cyprus.

“Since its launch in late 2018, Moldova has been receiving a lot of interest from expats residing in the UAE. As for European citizenship, Cyprus is still the most attractive fast-track option for the ultra-rich,” Cotdemiey said.

St. Kitts & Nevis and Antigua & Barbuda have recently reduced their application costs by 50 per cent. Those who want to obtain a St. Kitts passport will now be required to make a financial contribution of $150,000 for a single applicant, and $175,000 for a couple. In Antigua, an investment of $125,000 for a family of up to four members is required.