Passport for sale: Instability in the Middle East leaves many seeking
How much is a passport worth? People can secure the rights to live in another country through a growing trade in ‘economic citizenship’ around the world, and much of that demand is from the Middle East.
“Rana” and her family have never set foot in the Commonwealth of Dominica, but they can legitimately claim citizenship of the Caribbean island.
The Jordanian family, from Abu Dhabi, are part of a growing trend in the region of buying so-called “economic citizenship” to secure their future.
Like thousands of others, many from politically troubled countries such as Egypt and Syria, they have invested several hundred thousand dollars to secure second passports that may give them better opportunities.
Rana knows the value of a passport from Dominica. Because the island was once a British colony, they have already used their new citizenship for a visa-free holiday to the United Kingdom.
As Jordanians, they would have needed to apply for a standard UK visa up to three months before the trip. As Dominicans, they enjoy visa-free travel, a privilege that will be extended next year for visits to the rest of the European Union.
Economic citizenship, or second passports, is a multibillion-dollar industry, and one that is growing faster in the Middle East than in any other part of the world.
In the past five years, the number of countries offering citizenship and/or residency, in exchange for cash or property investments, has doubled, and a single applicant can now secure a second citizenship with US$100,000 (Dh367,000).
Certain countries such as Hungary, Bulgaria, Cyprus and the UK give the passport holders almost instant access into Europe – tempting for those whose own passports give them little security or freedom of movement.
“Unfortunately, there is a direct correlation between what’s going on in the Middle East and the demand for second citizenship,” says Armand Arton, chief executive of Arton Capital, a Canadian advisory group that deals with immigrant investor programmes.
“The demand in the Middle East is growing faster than any other market, because of the political instability that started with the Arab Spring.”
Rana, who has spent much of her life in the UAE, believes that second citizenship will make her family’s lives easier and will provide more opportunities for her children. Along with her husband and three children, the family spent almost Dh1 million on 10-year renewable passports two years ago.
“A friend of my husband told him about Dominica, and there was an office in Dubai to help with the applications,” she says.
“We had interviews and had to sort a lot of paperwork, but somebody was there to talk us through it all. I feel more at ease having it. It makes travelling very flexible.”
New rules mean that citizens of Dominica will be allowed to live in European countries for a total six months a year under the Schengen Agreement.
Arton Capital has offices around the world and has generated more than $2.5 billion in foreign investment to countries offering second citizenship or residency since it was established in 2006. There are currently about 20 countries that offer some form of second citizenship.
In Saint Kitts and Nevis, in the West Indies, it can be bought in two ways. The real estate option requires applicants to invest at least US$400,000 in designated property. The property must be kept for at least five years to qualify.
The second option in the tax-free federation is to make a contribution to the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation. Single applicants have to pay $250,000, plus a fee of $7,500.
People with up to three dependents must pay $300,000, and those with up to five, an extra $350,000.
The cost for a single applicant in the Commonwealth of Dominica is a contribution of $100,000 plus fees, or investment in certain real estate worth $200,000.