Cash for citizenship: Countries selling passports to buy a nationality

As visa restrictions tighten around the world, some countries are offering nationality – at a price. Jeremy Savory, the CEO of Savory & Partners, which helps arrange bought passports, says demand is high from the Middle East.
By Parag Deulgaonkar
Mon 12 Jun 2017 07:12 PM

A passport is no longer a privilege by birth but a commodity that can be bought if you have enough cash to burn.

As immigration processes to desired countries such as Canada, Australia and the US become increasingly gruelling, citizenship-by-investment (CIP) programmes are fast gaining traction.

Cash-starved countries are now selling passports, allowing “wealthy” individuals to buy a nationality without having to reside in the country.

In the Middle East, Savory & Partners are helping to pair up wannabe citizens with countries willing to sell them a new passport. The Savory family’s roots reach back to 1794 when its members served as the British Royal Family’s pharmacists. Today, Savory & Partners is a leading ‘second citizenship firm’ in the region, with authorised agent status granted by the governments of Dominica, Grenada and Antigua and Barbuda.

The Dubai-based company is rated among the top five globally, with a rejection rate of just 0.01 percent - the lowest in the industry, claims CEO Jeremy Savory, who founded this arm of the company. Since starting operation in 2010, the young CEO and his team have helped more than 700 families, accounting for at least 3,000 people, gain citizenship under various government schemes.

One of those is Iraqi national YH [Arabian Business has withheld his name upon request]. After failing to get a job last year because his passport did not allow visa-free travel, the 32-year-old decided to buy a new passport.

In a process that lasted almost six months, he spent nearly $170,000 [in the form of a government donation, as well as consultancy fees] to acquire citizenship of Dominica.

“I got a great job offer with a great pay in the UAE, but it required me to travel extensively. My Iraqi passport, however, made that difficult. As I wanted to progress in my career, I decided to buy a new passport,” he tells Arabian Business.

He opted for Dominica, a small Caribbean nation, given its “reasonable” $100,000 government donation that came with visa-free access to more than 110 countries.

"Though I still hold my Iraqi passport, it is the Dominica passport that allows me to travel freely and is helping me excel in my profession,” he says.

Savory & Partners provides assistance for 15 countries, including Portugal, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Cyprus, Malta, Grenada, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Panama, Comoros, Saint Lucia and Hungry.

Open sesame More people are buying citizenship in a second country to create new opportunities.

The most expensive programme is in Cyprus, at $2.24m, while Caribbean islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis have the longest running citizenship-by-investment programme in the world, dating back to 1984.

“Citizenship by investment is basically an insurance policy for high net worth people who want to hedge against social-economic events that are taking place in their country, which are outside their control,” Savory tells Arabian Business.

“Most of our clients are from Lebanon, Pakistan and Egypt, who hold GCC residency and have a net worth of over $1m. If you look at the situation in their country, they are thinking ‘I need to have a Plan B for peace of mind, security and to travel freely’. Despite having clean travel profiles, they do face hassle in getting travel visas.”

However, even money is not sufficient to buy a second citizenship in some cases. Savory says his firm does not handle applications from people whose current nationality relates to a conflict zone, because it is too challenging for them to get all the necessary documents to process their application.

Though Savory & Partners has offices in Hong Kong and London, most of the citizenship-by-investment business currently comes from the Middle East.

“Some people don’t want to wait for five years or more to get a passport,” he says. “For example, if one has started the EB-5 (immigrant investor programme of the US) process and sees President Donald Trump coming to power, the person might have second thoughts. As the application process for immigration has become more stringent, some nationalities are unable to fulfil the criteria of residency that in some cases is residing in the particular country for 180 days a year. And if you are running a successful business in Dubai, I don’t think anyone would like to leave it for six months of a year.

“Besides, if you are living in a country that is affected by socio-economic turmoil or you feel that might be around the corner, you want to make sure you have a plan so you don’t have to move back to your country.”

For Yogesh Pattni, it was when the Indian government revoked the passports of two of his children for no apparent reason that he decided to buy them new citizenship.

“The manner in which their passports were revoked was highly traumatising, and disrespectful of a citizen of a country who had done no wrong doing," Pattni tells Arabian Business. "Being minors, they [my kids] had a full life ahead of them. They could not participate in school activities, trips abroad or even travel for holidays. This prompted me to opt for a second passport."

Based on the guidance from Savory and Partners, the managing director of Kenya-based Victoria Commercial Bank applied for Antiguan passport for his children. Each passport cost about $75,000.

Savory says no matter how much money is paid, the due diligence process is still stringent and matches that often followed by government agencies.

“We try to save our clients time and headache by actually doing the compliance ourselves. So we personally meet with all our clients to qualify them and provide them in-house due diligence services for compliance because if we do not do our job, then our client’s chance of success is less,” Savory says.

Open sesame More people are buying citizenship in a second country to create new opportunities.

“And if we think the person who approaches us for our services is unlikely to pass through the rigorous government process, we do turn down their application politely as the reason is our reputation which goes back to 200 years. We have been accredited by all governments, and we hold every single state license. In fact, we are also audited, investigated and have to meet all the compliance levels of governments, in order to offer second citizenship services.”

However, he warns people looking for second passports not to fall prey to “fly by night” operators, but to be vigilant and counter check claims made by any consultancy.

“Though there are only 15 of these legal jurisdictions; half of the clients that come to us have lost money by choosing a country just because someone advises them something [but that someone] is unaware of the legalities for citizenship. Unfortunately, there are no international government websites where people can check the credibility of anyone’s claims.”

The biggest mistake people make, Savory says, is not doing their homework.

“You see a nice guy with a nice tie and believe in what he says. So you should do your research, compare them with other companies, check for proper accreditation and of course pay a visit to their premises,” he says.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.