As the coronavirus threatened to overwhelm health services before vaccines became available, wealthy individuals from developed democracies also looked for an escape route.  A second passport became an ever-more-desirable commodity, for those who could afford it. While not a new phenomenon—several countries have adopted “golden citizenship” programs over the years—the onset of the pandemic generated renewed interest. The Covid pandemic, Russia-Ukraine war has accelerated the demand for golden passport programs which offers fast tracked citizenship.

A second passport has many great benefits, such as the ability to travel freely without visas and flee political persecution, conflict, or civil unrest. It can offer attractive tax and wealth management benefits, too. Usually citizens from autocratic countries, where the rule of law is weak, are the most anxious to obtain a golden passport.

What is a Golden citizenship?

Golden citizenship programs allow individuals and their families to buy new citizenship through targeted investments or contributions. These are also known as Citizenship by Investment(CBI/CIP)

Investments and contributions: These include direct monetary contributions, the purchase of government debt instruments (for example, investment in government stocks, bonds, securities), investment in specific sectors (for example, real estate, construction), and the establishment of businesses. Qualifying amounts typically range from $100,000 to $2.5 million (excluding fees) and have various financing terms (for example, up-front payments, installments, bank loans).

Administration: Typically, a government agency oversees the program, and may rely on third parties to market the program, facilitate application submissions, and carry out due diligence. Some programs have statutory quotas that limit the number of applications.

Application process: The application process usually requires some background checks (for example, police criminal background checks, vetting by third parties), though requirements differ. Processing applications can take from 30 days to more than a year—many offer fast-track options in exchange for higher contribution amounts.

Price tags for a golden citizenship—sometimes in only 30-90 days—range from $100,000 to $2.5 million. St Lucia, Dominica, Montenegro, Turkey,Antigua and Barbuda, Cyprus, Grenada, Jordan, Malta, St Kitts and Nevis, and Vanuatu are among the many countries that have offered such deals.

The Golden citizenship programs are not the same as countries offering Golden visa programs. They should not be confused with each other. The main difference lies in Visa programs offer only residency (no citizenship) whereas Golden citizenship leads direct to a passport and full citizenship rights after being vigorously vetted.