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Geopolitical Instability Fuels Unprecedented Millionaire Migration

Misha Glenny

Misha Glenny

Misha Glenny is the Rector of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. An award-winning journalist and broadcaster, he is a former UK Digital Security Journalist of the Year.

Millionaires are on the move again and their migratory patterns offer interesting insights into the current geopolitical turbulence as election fever continues to sweep across many parts of the world.

UAE remains the most powerful millionaire magnet

Since 2013, there has been an increase of over 150% in high-net-worth individuals  relocating for purposes of investment, favorable tax regimes, or personal and professional security. This year is likely to see some 128,000 of them making the decision to move countries and that figure is forecast to jump to 135,000 in 2025. There is no single reason for this steady uptick, rather it is determined by the vicissitudes of regional politics. We can usually ascribe the decision to move either to issues of personal security or financial benefit. 

Colorful overlapping silhouettes of people placing ballot papers in a voting box

Not for the first time, the UAE outstrips all comers in its ability to attract high-net-worth individuals to its territory. At 6,700, the UAE is projected to attract nearly twice as many incoming investors as its nearest rival, the USA in 2024. Although the outflow of wealthy Russians has dropped dramatically since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, many of those who do leave find their way to the UAE. The Emirates has a powerful attraction to Indian high-net-worth individuals as well, as the two economies have long enjoyed close relations.

USA and Canada vie for investors as election looms

Among the advanced industrial nations, the USA continues to attract more millionaires to invest in the country than any other. If not booming, the US economy is riding the economic rollercoaster of the past two years with greater elan than its comparable competitors in Europe. In recent months, Wall Street has again started to register record gains. An estimated 3,800 individuals seeking to invest a million dollars or more are projected to arrive in the US during 2024.

But the USA does have one surprising competitor — Canada, where the net high-net-worth-individual inflow this year is likely to be 3,200. Given that the USA is almost 17 times the size of its northern neighbor, Canada would appear to offer significant advantages to potential investors.

Part of that is accounted for by the huge rise in migration away from mainland China, which is forecast to lose 15,200 millionaires this year as Xi Jinping continues to exert tight control over the economy. There has been a significant increase in Canada’s Chinese community in recent years, notably in British Columbia. Vancouver has become one of the most desirable destinations in North America, growing by over a quarter of a million people in the past decade, with new businesses springing up everywhere and housing costs rocketing. 

Canada’s boom in the oil and metallurgical industries is also assisting the growth of homegrown millionaires, putting it in 9th place in the Top 15 wealthiest countries (W15) by the end of last year, with a millionaire population of 371,200. But the country may also be benefitting from the political uncertainty south of the border as we approach the US Presidential and Congressional elections in November. Whether Trump or Biden wins is probably not critical for high-net-worth individuals deciding where to base themselves. But the fear of political instability probably is. There is much pent-up suspicion on both sides of the political divide that their political rivals may try to steal the election. Even sober political analysts have conceded that this could degenerate into serious violence, echoing the events of 6 January 2021 when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in Washington. Nonetheless, the USA remains by some distance home to the largest number of billionaires and centi-millionaires — nearly 800 of the former and 10,000 of the latter.

Scrapping of non-dom status accelerates UK’s millionaire drain 

Elections elsewhere have already had an impact on high-net-worth individuals’ choices. As it prepares for a snap poll on 4 July, the UK is facing losses of 9,500 millionaires, centi-millionaires, and billionaires this year, more than any other country except China. Brexit continues to exert a negative impact on travel and investment while the London Stock Exchange is slipping against its competitors in New York, Singapore, and even elsewhere in Europe. Negative headlines about the state of Britain’s aging infrastructure, notably its sewage, transport, and health systems, have not helped.

But it was the decision earlier this year of Conservative Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to appropriate a long-standing policy of the opposition Labour Party by abolishing the non-dom status which has unleashed some vocal criticisms among high-net-worth individuals. Interestingly, as the UK slips down the table, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, and Portugal, which have retained similar arrangements to the non-dom status, appear to have absorbed much of its millionaire exodus.

India’s millionaires head to Australia, USA, Canada

India, too, is witnessing a steady net outflow of millionaires but here the story is more positive. Opportunities for overseas investments are opening up for many wealthy Indians, especially in Australia and the USA. Canada is again an important destination although politics has intervened here after Ottawa accused Narendra Modi’s government of having ordered the murder of a prominent Sikh opposition activist on Canadian soil.

Figures detailing the growth of centi-millionaires and billionaires over the past decade confirm a broader economic pattern across the globe: the growth of Asia and the relative decline of Europe. China, India, South Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam have all registered a huge relative increase in their number of high-net-worth individuals — we can be confident this trade will continue as intra-Asian growth continues to spiral. Africa and South America are lagging behind but with 82,400 millionaires, Brazil has a sizable high-net-worth population.

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