Denise Ng is the Director of Henley & Partners Hong Kong and Head of North Asia.
As we enter the second quarter of 2022 there are positive signs that the East Asia market is picking up after a drop in enquiries due to the pandemic. In January alone, Henley & Partners received 10% of total 2021 enquiries by East Asian nationals, and we trust this trend will continue. Interest began to hot up in the second half of 2021 after a sluggish start to the year in a region that was hard hit by Covid-19 and the associated border closures that commenced in 2020. Several countries, and China in particular, had stringent travel restrictions, and many people have been working from home. With numerous countries now relaxing mobility controls, we are confident that in the near future, interest in residence and citizenship by investment will return to its former high levels.
China and Hong Kong (SAR China) were the most active source markets in terms of the number of enquiries we received in 2021, followed by Taiwan (Chinese Taipei), South Korea, and Japan.
Chinese nationals made 45% of East Asia enquiries and combined with Hong Kong (SAR China) the two accounted for close to 80% of overall enquiries. These trends are continuing in 2022, and interest is on the rise in Japan. According to New World Wealth, China was home to 5% of the world’s high-net-worth population at the end of 2021, while 9% were based in Japan.
Historically there has been a wide geographical spread of popular investment migration programs, from Australia and New Zealand in Oceania, to Austria, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, and the UK in Europe, to Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean, and Malaysia in neighboring Southeast Asia, but the Portugal Golden Residence Permit Program remains a firm favorite. There has also been a great deal of interest in the Montenegro Citizenship by Investment Program since it was launched in 2020. In 2021, enquiries continued to focus on Portugal as well as Malta, followed by the Caribbean island nations, and the same pattern can be seen in 2022.
Covid has had a markedly negative effect on the East Asia region in the past two years. Many Chinese nationals felt that China was a safer base as they believed it had tight control over the virus. Overseas relatives — and particularly students studying abroad — were urged to return. Others adopted a wait-and-see approach and put their investment migration needs on hold. Yet the second half of 2021 saw the market begin to revive. As more investors realize the importance of having back-up options to overcome global immobility and protect themselves from volatility by spreading risk and providing more secure options to their families — especially the next generations — enquiries will rise again.