By Alicia Buller
Citizenship by investment programmes that offer visa access to the US have experienced an unprecedented surge in popularity
As countries in the Middle East slowly return to work amid the coronavirus pandemic, some expatriate entrepreneurs are reconsidering their families’ futures.
Many of them will have benefited from the growth of the economies over the past 20 years, particularly those who built businesses across the GCC.
However, both second generation entrepreneurs from Arab countries and Indians living in the UAE are reportedly looking to expand their business interests elsewhere, particularly in North America.
According to local experts, citizenship by investment (CBI) programmes that offer visa access to the US have experienced an unprecedented surge in popularity as entrepreneurs weigh up their options amid the coronavirus era and seek out new global residencies.
Sam Bayat, Dubai-based founder of Bayat Legal Services and an immigration consultant, says that pre-Covid-19, the “amount of access” a passport offered to many countries was considered valuable.
However, as global travel becomes more difficult and the threat of further pandemics looms, Bayat says that “residency” will be commoditised.
Bayat explains: “As business travel is decimated and people are now aware of the dangers of pandemics, people who can afford it will be thinking about how to get more residencies under their belt to prepare for any eventuality.”
There are many reasons why the US remains such a popular option: it is business friendly, offers excellent education and housing, and is tolerant of religions and minorities.
Mohammed Asaria, the managing director of Range Developments, a luxury hotel developer that facilitates citizenship by investment in the Caribbean, says that while many people will not want to move away from the UAE, they will be increasingly keen to look at other options in the US. He has seen a 50 per cent upsurge in interest since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While several Caribbean islands offer citizenship, Grenada is the only one that can provide an E2 for the United States.
“Citizenship of Grenada provides the opportunity to access and migrate to the US, the world’s largest economy in a very expeditious manner, in addition to providing the insurance of a second citizenship in times of stress,” says Asaria.
Once an investor has obtained their Grenada citizenship, which costs around $220,000, the US E2 application can be made and obtained in around six weeks. However, the successful grant of a US E2 visa is dependent on the applicant having a viable business idea and the required investment.
Asaria adds that Grenadian passports require several due diligence stages, followed by strict US vetting before an E2 visa is granted.
“Those who are seeking a safe haven are waking up to the idea that it’s an affordable option, with an arrangement where you can get an E2 visa and start a new life,” he says. “I could open a business in San Diego and move my family there within six months.”
Bayat agrees that Grenada will be a top choice for Indian and Arab-based expats in the coming months. “Canada and the UK are not particularly open to migrant workers currently, whereas the US visa process is fast.”