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Investor immigration market and the UAE – A rise in popularity

The global investor immigration market, originally a niche sector, has in the past decade gained enormous speed, reaching an estimated $21.4 billion in 2018. What’s more, the industry shows no signs of slowing down. On the contrary, according to projections, the global market could hit the staggering $100 billion in revenue by 2025.

While demand for CBI schemes has been growing worldwide, most notably in China, the Middle East has not lagged too far behind. Over the past few years, investment immigration has been highly popular with UAE residents. What are the reasons behind its enduring appeal?

Key Demand Drivers

  • Visa-Free Travel

According to market data, UAE residents who travel for business on a regular basis often make use of Citizenship by Investment (CBI) schemes. CBI allows for faster and easier travel, including visa-free access to a great number of countries. The S&A immigration team, also see global mobility as the CBI’s biggest selling point. CBI schemes attract many UAE residents who are holders of so-called “weak” passports that only allow for limited visa-free travel.

  • Economic and Political Stability

However, other factors come into play as well. More and more UAE residents who come from countries with mounting political instability are drawn to immigration investment. For them, CBI and residency schemes are a way to protect their families and businesses in times of uncertainty.

  • Family and Education

Furthermore, an additional advantage of second-passport programs is the that they offer access to world class national education and allow parents of students in Europe and North America to visit their children at any time.

  • Wealth

Perhaps more than anything, though, the ever-increasing number of high net worth individuals (HNWIs) and ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) has been a key market driver in the investment immigration industry. Just in 2018, the UAE registered over a thousand new millionaires, bringing the total number of HNWIs to 53,798. In that same year, the country’s population of UHNWIs grew to 693.

Most HNWIs and UHNWIs are business people that often travel for work. A second passport or residency allows them to do so visa-free and hassle-free. As shown in the 2019 global wealth reports, 36% of UHNWIs now hold a second passport and 26% plan to emigrate permanently, compared to 34% and 21%, respectively, in 2018.

Popular Investment Destinations

According to market data, while many countries worldwide are seeking to reap the benefits of CBI schemes, some of the rising stars in 2019 were Greece, Cyprus, Malta, and the USA.

In regard to residency investments, Greece in not traditionally high on the wish list of UAE residents. Ever since the introduction of its Golden Visa program in 2012, however, the country saw a surge in applications from prospective UAE-based investors. These include nationals of countries as diverse as India, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Other countries with high numbers of applicants include Brazil, China, Russia, Turkey, and South Africa.

In addition to Greece, the residency by investment schemes of countries such as Canada, Portugal, and Spain also score high in popularity. They draw investors in with their excellent business opportunities, high ROI, and great lifestyle.

In regard to citizenship investment schemes, Cyprus island in the Mediterranean as well as Caribbean jurisdictions such as Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and St. Kitts also see an increasing demand. Investors find them attractive because of the low investment thresholds, high passport scores, and fast processing times.

Cyprus especially, is highlighted as a particularly trendy investment destination among the world’s UHNWIs. In addition to its many other selling points, Cyprus is the only EU country that allows investors to obtain citizenship in just six months with no residency requirements.

Turkey is yet another top performer for 2019. That is perhaps unsurprising, given the country’s geographic and cultural proximity to the Middle East, strong ties to the Gulf, and its competitive CBI program.

The Top Citizenship and Residency Schemes in 2020

Market trends predict Cyprus, Greece and Canada to definitely be among this year’s top performers. Vanuatu is also one to watch out for, as it has been doing increasingly well over the past few months.

As far as citizenship schemes go, the S&A team singles out Cyprus CBI scheme as bound for success due to its relatively low investment requirements, record fast processing and  access to the EU. For similar reasons, highest recommended residency programme would be the Greek Visa scheme.

What More Does 2020 Have in Store for the Industry?

Due Diligence and Social Impact

In addition to the influx of new CBI jurisdictions on the market, a big trend in 2020 will be a regulatory push for more due diligence in all jurisdictions. The screening will probably take place at the initial application stage and will look into the source of wealth and reputation of the applicant. Another factor that will likely become more important is the wider social impact of foreign investments on the local communities.

Alternative Investment Types

Many countries are expanding their CBI schemes to include investment types other than real estate. It is becoming increasingly common for investors to be able to obtain citizenship or residency through:

  • Fixed bank deposits
  • Donations to a government fund
  • Purchasing government bonds
  • Making a fixed capital investment in pre-approved businesses

However, even though government donations typically have a lower price point, real estate schemes remain more popular due to their promising ROI.

Changing Demographics

Based on estimates of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, some 8.58 million foreign expats currently live in the UAE. Together, they account for up to 88% of the country’s population. An increasing number of them seek to move abroad or acquire a second citizenship.

That is due to the increased options for legal immigration and awareness on the subject. People immigrate in search of political and economic stability as well as better education, work opportunities, healthcare, social benefits, tax policies, and visa-free travel. Experts predict that this trend is likely to continue throughout 2020 and beyond.