Over the past three to four years, UAE residents have increasingly applied for residency in three emerging immigration countries; St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica and Bulgaria.
“The increase is tremendous,” says Pej Mohyedddin, immigration consultant at Bayat Legal Services, a Business and Immigration Lawyer firm.
The benefits of becoming a resident in one of these countries are great. There are good chances of obtaining citizenship, visa-free travel options to many countries and a fairly easy application process, with relatively little requirement from applicants.
But the dream is not for everyone. “These programs are based on investment,” explains Sohail Saleem, general manager of Premiers Consultancy. “These programs are designed for high-net worth investors whose priority is not to migrate but get citizenship or second passports.”
St. Kitts and Nevis
Most popular among the three is St. Kitts and Nevis. For a minimum non-refundable donation of $250,000 (Dh918,250) to the Sugar Industry Diversification Fund (SIDF) ((plus $7,500 due diligence and government fees), a single applicant buys his way into the country, obtaining citizenship and passport - within in some cases as early as three months to maximum five months.
A second option is investment in real estate, where the single applicant purchases a property with a minimum value of $400,000 in addition to a non-refundable minimum donation of $50,000 to the government.
“This passport guarantees visa-free travel to over 130 countries including the United Kingdom, Schengen countries and Canada. There are no language requirements and the applicant does not need to show up for an interview. He does not need to visit the country at any point,” explains Pej.
Dominica comes second in popularity. The applicant needs to speak English and is required to travel to the island for an interview once. If the family of the immigrant is involved, a second visit is required. The citizenship and passport processing will take 5-9 months, and visa-free travel to 70 countries is guaranteed.
“The program is called the ‘Economic Citizenship Program’, for which you have only one option; investment made directly to the government. This investment is non-refundable and requires a minimum of $100,000 plus government fees and due diligence for a single applicant,” explains Pej.
“These government s are looking for investors to improve their economy and in return offer attractive packages to these investors. But the investments are donations; you will not see a return of this money,” says Pej.
A different case is Bulgaria. Although the country is not quite as popular as the other two countries, investment return is guaranteed. “The investor transfers EUR511,000 (Dh 2,390,368.4) to the Guaranteed Government Bond for five years. After that period citizenship is obtained and a return of the investment is guaranteed by the government. Residency will be acquired in 12 months and the investor does not physically have to live there,” says Pej.
Although these programs offer safe and attractive investments options exempt from tax pay, the main reason for applicants to turn to these countries is the nationality gain. “These countries’ passports are strong, widely accepted, enjoy visa-free travel to hundreds of countries around the world bundled with extensive health and education benefits to the families,” says Sohail.
“The programs are popular especially amongst Iranians, Pakistanis and few Arab nationals, whose countries have been struggling through political unrest and economic uncertainties.”
Pej agrees. “With the current political problems worldwide traveling has become difficult for some nationalities and having a different or second nationality has become a big thing. These programs have been there for quite a while, but the increase has been tremendous over the past 3-4 years.”
It is estimated that in 2012 alone an approximate 1500 people have applied for the investment program in St. Kitts and Nevis and 500 for Dominica, worldwide. Although no official numbers were given, the number of passports issued by St. Kitts and Nevis must be over 2000, thinks Pej.
For the three countries together Premiers Consultancy has submitted 204 clients’ cases in 2012. “A 115 are already processed, with only 4 rejections based on non-compliance with security/background clearance criteria. 89 applications are still in process and the security clearance stage was passed successfully by all, hence all these cases will get through in due time,” comments Sohail.
With the recent announcement of the European Commission to grant visa-free travel to the Schengen area to Dominican passport holders in a bid to spur economic growth in the EU, Sohail expects that immigration to Dominica will only become more attractive.