Wealthy South Africans are increasingly taking up foreign citizenship by investment offers as an easy path to a second foreign passport, says Andrew Rissik, director at Sable International, who highlights the most popular options over the past 12 months.

What is Citizenship-by-investment?

The usual grounds for acquiring citizenship are birth in a country, descent from a citizen parent, marriage to a citizen, or naturalisation. But if you are unable to gain a second passport through the traditional routes, citizenship-by-investment offers an alternative.

While residence is granted to investors and wealthy individuals in most countries, there are currently only a few countries which offer citizenship-by-investment programmes that provide a direct route to citizenship based on investment, such as Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, Cyprus, Dominica, Grenada, Malta, Cyprus, St. Kitts and Nevis.

There are also other countries that offer a route to citizenship following a reasonable period of residence, such as Australia, Portugal, the UK and the US, Sable said.

“The key to finding the right solution is to assess whether the opportunity matches your personal lifestyle and business goals, and those of your family. The service around the process should ideally be all-encompassing, covering logistical and administrative tasks like opening bank accounts, tax advice, property selection and management, and your residency application and most importantly your budget,” said Rissik.


Grenada citizenship and the E-2 American visa

Grenada’s Citizenship-by-Investment Programme doesn’t require you to live in or visit the country to apply. Grenada offers visa-free access to China, and has a citizenship-by-investment programme and an E-2 Investor Visa Treaty with the US.

Grenadian citizenship applicants have two investment options:

National Transformation Fund (NTF) donation option: A minimum non-refundable contribution to the NTF of $150,000 for a single applicant and $200,000 for a family of up to four members.

Real estate option: A minimum of $220,000 as a co-owner in qualified real estate to acquire property from a government real estate project.


Malta and Cyprus Individual Investors Programme

The Malta Residence and Visa Program (MRVP) offers non-Maltese persons the possibility of acquiring an EU residence card that offers visa-free travel access to 182 countries including the UK and US.

Minimum requirements include:

  • Investment in government bonds of EUR 250,000 retained for at least five years;
  • Non-refundable government contribution of EUR 30,000;
  • Property purchase of EUR 320,000 or a property lease of EUR 12,000 per annum.

Cyprus offers a fast route to EU citizenship, well-suited to families and, once granted, citizenship is valid for life and can be passed down for generations, Sable said.

The main requirement for Cyprus is the purchase of new immovable property of a total market value of at least EUR 300,000 plus VAT.

The applicant must provide supporting evidence of a secured annual income of at least EUR 30,000 derived from abroad. This income must increase by EUR 5,000 for the spouse and every additional child and EUR 8,000 for any dependent parent.


American EB-5 Investment Visa

The EB-5 Investor Visa offers a fast, robust routes to permanent US residency. This programme includes immediate family and offers the right to residency in all states.

The EB-5 is a programme under which entrepreneurs – and their spouses and unmarried children under 21 – are eligible to apply for a green card if they make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise in the US.

It requires that a foreign individual invests $1.8 million (or $900,000 if the investment is made in a rural area or an area with high unemployment) into a new commercial enterprise and create 10 new full-time jobs.

Funds must stay invested and be at risk until permanent resident status is granted. The EB-5 visa gives the holder access to the public education system at all age levels.


Portugal’s Golden Visa and NHR programmes

A property investment in Portugal ensures residency rights for you and your immediate family in a European country, eventually resulting in Portuguese citizenship. There are low minimum-stay requirements, averaging only a few weeks each year.

The Non-Habitual Residence (NHR) programme also ffers attractive tax benefits to incentivise expats to consider retirement in Portugal, such as aa 10-year tax break on qualifying foreign income – including private pensions and company dividends.

To qualify, you need to make an investment, either individually or through a company, in at least one of the following investment operations in Portugal for a minimum of five years:

  • The acquisition of real estate with a value of at least €280,000;
  • A capital investment with a minimum value of €350,000;
  • There are other less popular investments which we can discuss with applicants.

Australia

There are a number of routes for Australian immigration especially if you are looking for investment based options.

A popular choice is the Business Innovation Visa, suitable if you own and run a successful business, said Sable. It’s valid for four years and three months, and allows you and your family members to live, study and work in Australia, and eventually be eligible for permanent residence.


British citizenship and immigration

The UK remains a popular immigration destination for South Africans. “South Africans can apply for a number of investment based residence and citizenship visas, and they can relocate their business to the UK under certain conditions,” Sable said.

It pointed to the number of inquiries and registered interest from South Africans in 2019/20:

  • British citizenship and immigration – 8,097
  • Australia – 1,095
  • Portugal’s Golden Visa and Non-Habitual Resident programmes – 527
  • American EB-5 Investment Visa – 246

Read: How much money you need to earn to be in the top 1% in South Africa