This book discusses the rules, pitfalls and advantages of the world’s major immigrant investor programs; programs that offer permanent residence through a more or less passive investment. The process of researching the appropriate material led me to conclude that more countries offer immigrant investment programs than I could describe in a tome somewhat smaller than an encyclopedia. The emphasis here is on where people want to live, not tax havens. The most attention will be given to the most obvious programs: US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. We also include some of the lesser but still interesting locations frequently mentioned or sought by our clients, such as Switzerland, Costa Rica, Malta, Malaysia, Belize and Fiji. I have not included Greece because virtually all of the inbound immigration comes from EU countries whose nationals do not need to invest to obtain immigration status, and its immigration laws are still works in progress. Finally, I didn’t convert currency because it’s a moving target and because my currency seems to dwindle daily, making it too painful to do the research.
This book will help you choose a destination and give you some idea of whether you qualify or want to qualify for the particular program. Most countries, the most notable exception being the USA, offer straightforward investment options but give the examiner great discretion in determining the suitability of the applicant. Local assistance is very useful for overcoming an examiner’s inate suspicions.
Once you choose a destination, you should contact a qualified attorney or migration consultant specializing in the particular program. In many instances, I solicited help from professionals focusing on a particular country. The truth of the matter is that there are very few people making their living by arranging immigration status for investors. There are even fewer qualified persons in the field. I asked those whose opinions I respect to contribute to this book. Please feel free to contact them directly.
I have practised US immigration law for some 20 years, specializing in visas pertaining to investors. While this doesn’t make me an expert on immigrant investor programs world over, the US experience gives me a frame of reference and insights about the other programs I wouldn’t otherwise have. I have attempted to ferret out each country’s policies so that the reader can determine whether their goals fit with the host country goals. This is the first and most important step to making a successful application. Teaching pigs to dance always fails and irritates the pig.
Despite 9/11 and the West’s conflict with radical Islam, more people these days travel for fun and immigrate for no other reason than a change of lifestyle than at any other time in history. Until the advent of jet transport, traveling for fun was a luxury reserved for the relatively rich. Before jet travel became affordable, travel took too long and cost too much. According to the World Tourism Organization, over 700 million people took a trip for pleasure in 2003. About 56% went to Europe, 16% to the Americas, and 18% to Asia Pacific countries.
Most immigration for lifestyle is to the English speaking world from the rest of the world. The USA, alone, accepts approximately 1,000,000 permanent residents per year. Additionally, several million illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Central America, with a greater number of Canadians than one might think, live in the US on a permanent basis. It’s difficult to obtain a firm number because estimates may or may not include dependents of the principal applicant. Also the fact that a visa was issued does not necessarily mean that the recipient of the visa actually landed as a permanent resident. In the case of the USA, recording comings and goings of immigrants was not of paramount importance until after 9/11. Recall that two of the 9/11 hijackers’ student visas for pilot training were approved after the event.
The EU countries also accept large numbers of immigrants, for different reasons. EU nationals are not restricted from living and working in other EU countries. Refugees or simply illegals from the Asian land mass, home to most of the world’s population, may use land transport to cross porous borders rather than arrive by boat or plane at a port or airport policed by customs and immigration officials. By any estimation, a lot of people are on the move for a lot of reasons.
Immigration past and present
Movement of peoples is fundamental to human history. Neanderthal man wandered for food. Neolithic man learned to use tools to produce food rather than wander when food supplies dwindled. The advent of cities and towns caused townspeople to trade, colonize and import goods and skills to supplement local resources that no longer supported the population.
For most of history, immigration in the modern sense was impossible. One had to be born to the land in order to obtain full rights. All visitors, regardless of period of stay, were sojourners. Of course there were exceptions such as marrying in, buying in or making an extraordinary contribution. The general rule prevented anything like the immigration patterns we know today.
Until the advent of the information age, most organized immigration consisted of slavery, and corvée (or forced) labor. Nomads and refugees always did and will continue to exist. In the case of corvée or state sponsored immigration, the king simply rounded up folks and put them to work. Corvée labor still exists. Stalin and Mao Tse Tung, as Nebuchadnezzar before them, removed entire populations for strategic and economic reasons. The classical Greeks refined slavery to a highly regulated system of property rights that existed until the 1860s in Russia and the USA. The principle difference between slavery and corvée labor is that corvee labor theoretically has an end to it. By the 1860s, slavery was banned in most places and replaced by indentured servitude.
Australia was originally settled by transported convicts and then by indentured servants. The northern states of the USA relied on indentured servitude for labor, while the southern states relied upon slavery. Canada and New Zealand were more middle-class enterprises.
Immigration, as we know it today, derives from the industrial and, more particularly, the information revolutions. The industrial revolution began to shrink time and space. The first immigration wave from Europe to North America, Australia, parts of South America and South Africa occurred in the late 1800s up to the 1920s. This immigration wave stemmed from the host countries’ desire to populate new lands with Europeans. As the host countries’ appetites for new population were satisfied, legal barriers to immigration became the norm.
Between 1900 and 2000, humankind went from traveling by sailing boat and horse, to traveling at multiples of the speed of sound, not to mention reaching the moon. Information went from reading about the travels of Marco Polo or Captain Cook several years after the event, to watching world events unfold in real time on satellite television.
The management of exponentially increased information flows required complex systems and greater specialization of labor for maintenance, storage, and dissemination of information. Operating at real time requires greater flexibility to deal with ever-changing circumstances. This, in turn, requires still greater specialization of skills. By the mid-1970s, international employers began to comb the world for the specialized skills required to service this complex infrastructure. This started a new wave of immigration that continues today, only slightly reduced by the impacts of 9/11.
As strange as this may sound, the world’s larger inbound markets reacted by removing barriers to immigration. In historical terms, immigration is easier, not harder, than before. For example, the USA finally got around to repealing the Asian Exclusion Act in 1976. It’s hard to believe that prior to 1976 Asians, except for Japanese under the so called ‘Gentlemens’ Agreement’, were categorically excluded from the USA. The EU formed in part as a reaction to globalization. Europe required a larger market, with fewer barriers to trade and people’s movements, to compete for skills in the ever-shrinking world. In this context, globalization refers to the need to integrate skills from all parts of the world to support real time complex systems.
This is not to say that all road blocks to immigration vanished. Every time a country liberalizes immigration, there’s an influx. The influx reaches a point where it coincides with an economic downturn, causing local labor and local chauvinists to complain and politicians to tighten the rules. The return of good times increases demand for skills and a consequential liberalization of the immigration rules.
The UK offers a case in point. Under Tony Blair, the UK implemented what are probably the most liberal immigration policies in the world to attract skilled workers and entrepreneurs. Now that the bloom is off the boom, we’ll see how long those policies last.
The same globalization trends make investment immigration, or immigration for lifestyle reasons rather than employment, possible. The major inbound countries – US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada – as well as a host of other countries, devised immigrant investment schemes as a way to attract capital and entrepreneurial skills.
While the investment schemes vary and ebb and flow in relation to the economic climate, the goal is to attract business-savvy immigrants with capital who will foster economic growth as a by-product of their investment in the host country. During good times, the critics complain of immigrants buying a visa. How unfair, my grandparents floated here on a three-month voyage on a rotten ship while the modern fat cats arrive in first class. This chorus empowers the authorities, who don’t need prompting, to tighten the program and restrict entry. In bad times, local governments complain of tax revenue shortfalls and unemployment. All of a sudden immigrant investors no longer buy immigration status, but become legitimate sources of capital and out comes the red carpet.
The UK, US and New Zealand offer private sector managed programs. Canada and Australia nationalized their programs in response to abuses that occurred during the boom times of the mid to late 90s. The US, whose program was born out of the 1990 recession, unilaterally froze its program in 1998 only to dust it off again in 2003 in response to the recession. The UK amended its program in 2004 because it was so expensive that very few people applied.
As a general rule, investor capital is much safer with the nationalized Australian and Canadian programs. The privately managed programs offer greater flexibility and greater variety of investment options.
Ours is the first generation in human history where hundreds of millions of people travel for fun, work abroad primarily for the experience, or simply pull up stakes and move to a nicer clime. When was the last time humankind strung two generations of wealth together without a major wealth-destroying conflagration? Virtually any freeholder in Western Europe, Japan or Korea can sell the family home, or use an inheritance, to relocate to Australia, North America and a host of other countries simply by making a passive investment.
Let’s investigate the options!