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ANALYSIS: How selling citizenship is now big business
11:41 pm GMT+12, 09/10/2019, Vanuatu

By Sarah Treanor and Vivienne Nunis Business reporters, BBC News, Vanuatu

You can be born into it, you can earn it, and you can lose it. Increasingly, you can also invest your way into it.

The "it" is citizenship of a particular country, and it is a more fluid concept than ever before. Go back 50 years, and it was uncommon for countries to allow dual citizenship, but it is now almost universal.

 More than half of the world's nations now have citizenship-through-investment programmes. According to one expert, Swiss lawyer Christian Kalin, it is now a global industry worth $25bn (£20bn) a year.

 Kalin, who has been dubbed "Mr Passport", is the chairman of Henley & Partners, one of the world's biggest players in this rapidly growing market. His global business helps wealthy individuals and their families acquire residency or citizenship in other countries.

 He says that our traditional notions of citizenship are "outdated". "This is one of the few things left in the world that is tied to blood lines, or where you are born," he says. He argues that a rethink is very much due.

 "It's super unfair," he says, explaining that where we are born is by no means down to our own skill or talent, but instead "pure luck". "What is wrong with regarding citizenship like a membership," he adds. "And what is wrong with admitting talented people who will contribute?"

 There are those who support his argument. But for many, the idea that passports, so tied to identity, are in some way a commodity, doesn't sit well.

 We followed the citizenship trail to the tiny Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. Since the country introduced its new citizenship scheme four years ago, it's seen an explosion of interest. Passports now provide the biggest source of its government's revenues.

 For many aspirational Vanuatu-passport holders, the biggest draw is visa-free travel throughout Europe.

 Most foreign recipients of Vanuatu passports never even step foot in the country. Instead they apply for their citizenship in offices overseas, like the licensed Vanuatu citizenship broker PRG Consulting, based in Hong Kong.

 Hong Kong is one of the world's biggest citizenship marketplaces. In a cafe at Hong Kong airport, we met the citizenship agent MJ, a private businessman who helps an increasing number of mainland Chinese obtain a second or even third passport.

 "They don't feel safe [in China]," he says of his clients. "They want access to Europe to open a bank account, to buy property or to start businesses."

Citizenship is a competitive global market, and for many small and island nations, notably in the Caribbean - the price for a passport is around $150,000. The cost of a Vanuatu passport is said to be around the same level. How much does it cost to buy a passport?

     Antigua and Barbuda; from $100,000

    St Kitt's and Nevis; from $150,000

    Montenegro; from $274,000

    Portugal; from $384,000

    Spain; from $550,000

    Bulgaria; from $560,000

    Malta; from $1m

    US; between $500,000 and $1m invested in a business creating 10 jobs

    UK; from $2.5m

 A Vanuatu passport, MJ explains, is "so fast" to arrange (you can get one in just 30 days), and that helps make it a popular choice. But Mr Kalin and others caution that Vanuatu has a reputation for corruption. As a result, Henley & Partners and others do not deal with the Vanuatu citizenship programme.

SOURCE: BBC WORLD/PACNEWS


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