With fugitive jeweller Mehul Choksi, accused in the
fraud case, having acquired citizenship in the Caribbean nation of Antigua & Barbuda, the investment linked residency and citizenship programmes offered by various countries around the world have come under the scanner.
While Choksi’s case has highlighted the trend of Indian high net worth inpiduals seeking to flee the country after getting on the wrong side of law, not all millionaires who are leaving India are necessarily running away. Earlier in March this year, Ruchir Sharma, head of emerging markets and chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, pointed out that the highest number of millionaires leaving their country of origin was from India.
His comment was based on a survey carried out by the NW Wealth, which said since 2014, 23,000 millionaires have left India. In 2017, it was 7,000.
Many immigration experts, in fact, feel that there is a trend among high net worth Indians to look for opportunities across the globe to either set up businesses or expand existing ones, for which they avail themselves of investment linked immigration schemes. “We do not see any clients using these programmes because they have committed crimes and would decline to represent any that had. However, there is significant rise in the number of clients with “clean” records using these programmes,” says Mark I Davies, global chairman of Davies & Associates, a global law firm.
He adds that while a licensed law firm would look into such issues and not accept clients with any kind of criminal issues associated with them; unlicensed agents may not do that. “The problem in India is that agents are allowed to operate the passports by investment programmes. In other countries, only properly licensed professionals are allowed to do so. A solution is to prohibit agents form offering these passports in India unless they are properly qualified professionals.”
Most countries that run investor immigration programmes, including Antigua, carry out a thorough background check on applicants including a search of global criminal databases. Usually, a clean police clearance is also required. Even as controversy clouds the issue of how Choksi acquired citizenship in Antigua and whether the Indian government will succeed in getting him back; here are some of the programmes that HNIs from India are using to leave the country.
Antigua & Barbuda Citizenship by Investment
An applicant has to contribute $200,000 to the National Development Fund (NDF); or invest at least $400,000 in an approved real estate project with a 5-year lock-in or invest $1,500,000 directly into an eligible business as a sole investor.
The process is governed by strict background checks before the applicant and their families are granted citizenship.
Grenada citizenship by investment
By investing $2 million in the country’s economy or a real estate development, applicant can acquire citizenship with the right to live and work. Under direct investment route, applicants may immediately apply for citizenship without first applying for permanent residence.
Besides the opportunity to live and work in Grenada, this provides a route to the US E2 investment visa programme which is closed to Indian citizens.
This Caribbean nation has a retirement programme with an average annual income requirement for retirees of $24,000, which is not too high by north American standards. The other advantages are no taxes on worldwide income and the possibility of operating businesses out of Belize, ideal for senior citizens from US and Canada, including those of Indian origin.
St Kitts & Nevis citizenship programme
Buying property worth $400,000 in St Kitts and Nevis entitles buyers to automatically qualify for residency. This also provides visa-free travel to more than 100 countries, including the Schengen zone, Canada, the UK, Hong Kong and Singapore.
A contribution to public charity the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation of $250,000 (for a single applicant), or a non-refundable contribution to the Sustainable Growth Fund (SGF) of $150,000 also qualifies for acquisition of citizenship
Cyprus residential investment scheme
With an investment of €2 million in real estate (locked in for 3 years) a fast-track citizenship application that covers whole family. Open to all nationalities, the process takes 6 months.
There is no residency requirement and this is the fastest and most direct route to European Union citizenship.
Malta inpidual investment programme: It provides an European Commission recognised route for citizenship in an European nation for global high net worth inpiduals and their families. Benefits include visa free travel in 160 countries including the US
Investment required is Euro 250,000 (lock-in 5 years); a government contribution of Euro 30,000 and property worth Euro 320,000 in Malta. Clean criminal record needed with the Malta government conducting extensive criminal checks globally. In 2018, the IIP received 1000 applications from investors in 40 different countries.
Portugal Golden Resident Permit Program
This is a residency programme for non-EU investors. Applicants have to acquire property valued at a minimum of Euro 500,000.
The investment can be in any commercial or residential real estate and provides an entry into the EU for businesses. It is also an easy route to permanent residency.
UK Tier 1 (Investor) visa
Access to at least £2,000,000 in investment funds required to apply. Suitable for applicants from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland. Can apply to settle after 2 years with £10 million investment. Suitable for small and medium business families looking to set up shop in the UK and Europe; education and quality of life in UK is attractive for Indians.
EB-5 investors have to invest in a new commercial enterprise that will create full-time positions for at least 10 qualifying employees. The minimum investment is $1 million; and $500,000 in targeted employment areas.
It takes about a year and a half for an EB-5 applicant to get a conditional green card; six months to receive approval for an I-526 petition. 513 I-526 petitions were filed by Indians in 2017. Considering the long queues for green cards (permanent residence) for highly skilled professionals in the US, this is a fast-track solution.
Canada British Columbia Entrepreneur Program
Candidates have to open a new business in the province, or significantly expand an existing one, to qualify for expedited Canadian permanent residency through the British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program (BCPNP).
Personal net worth of at least CAD $600,000.
Minimum investment of CAD $200,000.
Creation of at least one new job.
Australia Investor Stream visa
Business investment visa (subclass 188) is initially granted on provisional basis for 4 years. After this, the business migrants can apply for permanent business visa. Applicants must own minimum of A$2.25 million as net assets / business just before 2 years of receiving invitation for investment visa and should be able to legally transfer the funds within 2 years.
Investors have to invest at least A$1.5 million in a designated territory of Australia and hold the same for at least 4 years after the business investment visa issuance.