Dr. Juerg Steffen is CEO of Henley & Partners and author of definitive books on high-net-worth relocation to Austria and Switzerland.
The volatility driven by Covid-19 has pushed the steadily growing appeal of investment migration seen over the past two decades into overdrive. While the surge in interest shown by citizens of emerging economies and politically precarious states is somewhat predictable, the big game-changer, accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, has been the exponential spike in interest from nationals of highly developed countries — and in particular Canada, the UK, and the US.
During the height of the initial lockdown, in the third quarter of 2020 Henley & Partners experienced an average increase of 45% in general enquiries compared to the same period in 2019. Remarkably, yet understandably, the most stratospheric growth globally has been in the US. By late 2020, Henley & Partners had seen an astonishing 235% spike in enquiries from US citizens since the start of the pandemic compared to the same period in 2019, with 74% more enquiries from Canadian citizens, and a 38% rise in enquiries from UK citizens. Another interesting shift was the 25% increase in the number of high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) enquiring about citizenship-by-investment as opposed to residence-by-investment programs, indicating that wealthy international investors were planning for the option of a permanent change should the need arise.
Covid-19 has certainly acted as a driver of growth, putting a spotlight on the many benefits of strategic residence and citizenship planning.
Covid-19 has certainly acted as a driver of growth, putting a spotlight on the many benefits of strategic residence and citizenship planning. However, even during the two years preceding the outbreak of the pandemic we had already seen positive developments, with investment migration maturing from being a luxury lifestyle product to a sophisticated investment choice. More than being associated with simple ease of travel or acquiring a vacation home as in the past, alternative residence and citizenship are now also perceived in terms of their remarkable potential for portfolio diversification, access to global investment and operations, and the creation of a new inheritance and identity for the family. The unexpected and unprecedented events of 2020 have simultaneously exacerbated push factors such as political and economic instability, and reprioritized pull factors, with stability, safety, and access to education and healthcare becoming issues of greater concern than ever before.
What has become clear is that savvy investors have begun to realize that diversification is as relevant to lifestyle planning as it is to wealth management. By spreading their assets across a range of markets and jurisdictions, over time they are more likely to harvest returns than if they hedge their bets on one country alone — even if that is a world-leading nation. Having been locked down for months, many of us have considered making a fresh start in a different place. No longer bound to physical offices in urban city centers, wealthy individuals began to explore options to relocate to entirely new countries, from where they would be able to continue operating their businesses while living a better life in a place where they and their family would feel more comfortable and secure.
In tandem with the rising number of enquiries from citizens of leading developed nations is the constant and steadily growing interest shown by citizens from emerging market countries. Emerging economies have advanced impressively over the past two decades, and economic power has increasingly shifted towards these regions, but while these markets abound with opportunities in the form of a rapidly rising middle class, higher consumption, and attractive returns, the downside is that there are as many (if not more) risks, such as political and economic instability, inferior infrastructure, and poor market access. Kenya has seen tremendous growth in enquiries of 116% between 2019 and 2020, while India saw growth of 61% off an already high base in the same period.
The past few years have seen many affluent individuals from emerging markets across the world transcending the historical constraints imposed on them and accessing business, career, educational, and lifestyle opportunities on a global scale, for themselves and their families, by investing in residence or citizenship programs. We expect to see these numbers continue to climb in 2021 and beyond as the prevailing political and economic uncertainty that has unfortunately been intensified by Covid-19 prompts even more international investors to plan their next move.
...investment migration is now very much a mainstream advisory service for HNWIs and ultra-HNWIs.
When combined with over a decade of growth in engagement from both the buy and the sell sides, it is fair to state that investment migration is now very much a mainstream advisory service for HNWIs and ultra-HNWIs. The value offering for investors and their families as well as sovereign states and their citizens is now very clear. Furthermore, the volume has reached a critical mass to a point where it is reasonable to suggest that investment migration has become a standard consideration for international HNWIs who are looking to hedge volatility and create short-term value as well as long-term yield through enhanced global mobility.
As client advisors, we are now seen, treated, and understood as being on a par with other professional advisors to HNWIs such as lawyers, bankers, and wealth and investment management professionals. However, there is a final frontier that we as an industry have yet to embrace before we can be fully accepted and seen by all our stakeholders as a mainstream advisory service: Enhanced regulation. When the first modern investment migration programs were developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the industry was largely unformed, and unregulated. The volume of capital deployed in investment migration was far lower. Today, however, with an annual market estimate of USD 20 billion circumstances are very different. Investment migration involves the international transfer of billions of dollars of liquidity and is defined by the core aspects of sovereignty — the right to bestow residence and/or citizenship. Combine the two and it is entirely understandable that global civil and political society would expect those in the value chain to be regulated.
The reality of the situation is that a significant percentage of participants in investment migration are regulated, albeit partially indirectly. Lawyers and financial service providers that are involved in the process are all subject to at least one regulatory regime depending on the nature of their operations. For instance, the transfer of capital to complete the investment process has to be processed through banks that are subject to both local and international regulatory oversight.
However, to take regulation to the next level requires the development of a regulatory vision that is specifically designed for the investment migration advisory practitioner. This is why Henley & Partners is such an active supporter of the Investment Migration Council. It is only through collective engagement with sovereign and supranational authorities that the investment migration industry will earn the necessary trust to help create a robust regulatory regime — one that will ensure that any investment migration practitioner adheres to the highest possible standards, wherever they are based and whatever program they are licenced to market.
Henley & Partners has already invested significant time and capital in a corporate structure that has governance at its heart. We are entirely confident that our model, which includes internal due diligence and audit capabilities, can form a blueprint for the wider industry to emulate.
Offering residence or citizenship in return for investment is mutually beneficial for successful applicants and their destination countries. Investors ‘buy into’ a country, bringing valuable debt-free capital that can be used to create monetary and fiscal autonomy or be invested in vital infrastructure, or both. Moreover, investors bring international skill sets and experience, which can diversify the economies of host countries, thereby creating positive options for all members of society. At Henley & Partners, we call this mutually beneficial dynamic ‘sovereign equity’.
Inflows of funds from investment migration programs can be considerable, with extensive macroeconomic implications. Foreign direct investment increases the value of the receiving state, bringing capital to the public sector in the form of donations to the government, tax payments, or treasury bond investments, and to the private sector as investments in businesses, start-ups, or real estate. The economic benefits are cumulative. Receiving states may experience growth in their real estate sectors, construction industries, and local businesses; increased liquidity in their commercial banking systems; employment growth; the creation of new revenue streams through duties and taxes on imported goods; increased hotel-room supply, greater air traffic, a rise in tourism, and associated tax and spending benefits.
For international investors, having options has become an essential part of any family’s insurance policy for the 21st century, particularly in times of uncertainty, and acquiring an alternative residence or citizenship enables greater flexibility and access to the leading economies of the world. This was the case before Covid-19, and it is even more so now. The more jurisdictions a family has access to, the more diversified its assets and the lower its exposure to both country-specific and global volatility will be. On the supply side, the range of investment migration products and options is likely to expand even further in the wake of Covid-19 as more sovereign states explore their unique ability to endow themselves with a source of sustainable revenue without increasing debt, which can burden future generations.
Necessity has seen the investment migration industry prevail, and with global demand and supply continuing unabated and tighter regulation in 2021 and beyond, investment migration will remain a firmly established mainstream player.
Capgemini Research Institute. Capgemeni, WorldWealthReport. October 9, 2020.
New World Wealth. “Global Wealth Migration Review – September 2020.” AfrAsia Bank Limited, AfrAsiaBank. October 2, 2020.