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A global mobility solution in COVID-19 pandemic

By David Lincoln
31 December 2021   |   3:39 am
With a passport that provides visa-free travel to just 45 countries, Nigerian citizens are all too familiar with the downsides of owning a weak passport.

(Photo by Phill Magakoe / AFP)

With a passport that provides visa-free travel to just 45 countries, Nigerian citizens are all too familiar with the downsides of owning a weak passport. Whilst applying for visas as a Nigerian citizen has never been straightforward, things have taken a turn for the worse in recent years. According to Quartz Africa, British lawmakers reported that African citizens are more than twice as likely to be denied UK visas than people from other continents while in Canada CBC reported that the Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) approval rate for African applicants fell by 18.4 per cent between 2015 and 2018.

Two years into the world’s greatest health and economic crisis in our lifetime, it is clear that lack of freedom is an issue being greatly exacerbated by the pandemic. This article highlights how Citizenship By Investment can play an important role in enhancing your global mobility in the current climate. It has long been the solution for High Net-Worth Nigerian families looking to enhance their global mobility and secure opportunities to access the best infrastructure in business, banking, healthcare and education.

The threat of New Variants
Since the start of the pandemic almost seven billion vaccine doses have been administered globally but the vast majority of shots have been administered in medium to high-income countries. When analysing the numbers closely, the disparity between nations becomes apparent. Shockingly, according to data from Bloomberg, African countries like Chad, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo haven’t even administered enough doses to cover one per cent of their populations, while the administration of third doses or so-called booster shots is already well underway in most developed countries including Israel, the United States and the UK.

Scientists have long warned of the consequences of vaccine disparity, specifically how this could contribute to the development of new variants. We have already seen the effects of more infectious variants such as Beta, which first appeared in South Africa, and the Delta variant in India. However, the latest variant, Omicron, comes at a time where the developed countries of the world, having vaccinated significant percentages of their populations, were in the process of recovery. The Omicron variant, which is highly transmissible and capable of evading vaccines much more effectively than previous variants, therefore poses a huge risk to economic recovery across the globe.

Travel Bans placed on Nigerian Citizens
Just a few weeks ago in reaction to the news of the Omicrom variant, many governments across the globe enforced blanket travel bans’ and restrictions not only on South African nationals but across the African continent. Citizens of eight African countries were once again placed on the UK’s red list meaning that all travellers from these destinations were required to quarantine in a hotel and isolate for a period of 10 days. Nigeria was one of these eight countries to suffer these restrictions in what was described as a “travel apartheid” by the UN chief General, Antonio Gutteres.

The real concern here, however, was not the quarantine itself, which British citizens returning to the UK would also be required to do, but the fact that Nigerian Citizens were at the same time suspended from applying for UK visitor visas (and also Canadian visitor visas). The Nigerian government responded not only to the UK but also to Saudi Arabia, Argentina and Canada (who also placed restrictions on Nigerian citizens) by threatening a reciprocal travel ban.

The UK has since removed these travel restrictions now that limiting the spread of the variant is no longer viable. The Omicron variant exploded on the streets becoming what is now the UK’s dominant COVID-19 strain across the country and local restrictions look likely to come in after the festive period. As to whether the travel restrictions are effective or not, is another question. However, this is a stark reminder of the difficulties that Nigerians face when applying for visas and evidence to suggest that a constant cycle of mutations and new variants in the African continent in which only 7.35 per cent of the population is vaccinated could turn out to be the new norm.

International restrictions being placed on Nigerian citizens is nothing new of course. At the start of 2020, Donald Trump suspended nationals of Nigeria, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, and Myanmar from being issued immigrant visas (Removed by President Biden a year later). Meanwhile, the EU decided to rule out visa bans and instead decided to impose tougher rules on Nigeria introducing a new visa code for Nigerian nationals looking to apply for Schengen visas. Both jurisdictions claimed to have taken such steps as security measures.

At this stage of the pandemic we are already experiencing consequences ranging from economic recession, political unrest and an increased level of crime in many parts of the world. Sadly, less developed countries are facing a deeper and longer-lasting crisis resulting in increased poverty. This is tragically reversing decades-long trends of shrinking inequality. As each country across the globe tries to focus on protecting their own national interests (sometimes at the expense of others for example: the monopolisation of vaccines), relationships are tense. We can therefore only expect more restrictions going forward. With a looming global recession and the constant risk of travel restrictions, now is the time to diversify your risk.

Caribbean Citizenship By Investment as a global mobility asset
Whilst having a second passport from a Caribbean country like Dominica would not protect the holder from UK quarantine rules that were recently imposed on Nigerian citizens, it does provide one with visa-free travel to the UK for up to six months per year. This of course removes the requirement to apply for visas all together. Dominica’s Citizenship By Investment programme requires a government donation from $100,000 USD or an investment from $200,000 USD into a government approved real estate project. In exchange, investors and their eligible family members receive passports with visa-free access to 124 countries including the entire Schengen Area, Ireland, Singapore, Malaysia, Russia and China.

Acquiring a second citizenship by investment not only opens the door to visa-free travel it comes with a whole host of other benefits. As a citizen of a new country, investors and their families can gain access to local healthcare and educational systems.

Beyond that, investors can in many cases benefit from their new country’s international treaties – Grenada Citizenship By Investment Programme being a perfect example. The ‘Spice Island’ is the only Caribbean country with a citizenship by investment programme that also has an E2 Treaty with the United States of America. Through this treaty, Grenadian Citizens who make an eligible investment of around $150,000 USD into a business via the E2 Investor programme can be granted with a five-year renewable residency in the USA.

Crucially, having a second citizenship means that you always have another place to go to in a time of crisis; another home. And who wouldn’t want to escape to their Caribbean paradise for a few months to avoid another impending lockdown?

Citizenship By Investment as a means to diversification
Citizenship By Investment can provide one with the opportunity to diversify and in many cases mitigate risk. In the Middle East second passports have long been considered essential assets for high net worth families. In Syria for example, second passports proved to be a lifeline and allowed many families to escape war and take refuge in their country of second citizenship.

Since the start of the pandemic, thousands of travellers have been restricted, quarantined and even left stranded during their travels based on their citizenship. Of course there are health measures being taken into account by governments, which one must respect. However, it is evident that restrictions can also be imposed for political reasons especially in the current COVID-19 pandemic. It is common practice for example for governments to reciprocate restrictions on the countries that place restrictions on them.

A unique benefit of being the citizen of a small remote island nation such as St. Lucia in the Caribbean or Vanuatu in the Pacific is that their governments generally stay out of global political issues. Such countries prefer to remain neutral and focus on building positive relationships across the globe. You are therefore very unlikely to face any sudden travel restrictions on your new passport from such a country for political reasons. The small Caribbean nations due to the remoteness, small population size and infrastructure have also coped very well with the pandemic. They have been able to minimise their numbers of COVID infections and citizens of these countries will have faced very few travel bans (if any). Citizens from the UK on the other hand, a country with one of the strongest passports in the world, have faced constant travel bans from other countries due to high infection rates, regular lockdowns and even outright banned citizens from leaving the country for non-essential purposes. The same can be said about the US which suffered some of the worst international travel bans during the peak of the pandemic. Ironically, despite being a traditionally inward immigration society the US has now emerged as one of the fastest growing markets for residency and citizenship by investment as global high net worth individuals in the region begin to understand the advantages of owning a second passport.

Securing your legacy with a ‘Tier 1’ second passport
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of acquiring a second citizenship by investment is gaining the right to live in your new country of citizenship. While few Nigerian investors are likely to choose to relocate to a remote island in the Caribbean or the Pacific like Vanuatu, European countries remain a popular attraction for investors looking to relocate.

The excitement of new opportunities for the entire family, more specifically the chance to acquire a Tier 1 Passport and gain the right to live, work, study and do business across all 26 EU Member States is the draw for hundreds of investors to Portugal for example.

The Portuguese Golden Visa programme is a residency by investment programme. It cannot officially be described as a ‘Citizenship By Investment Programme’ as it initially leads to residency and not citizenship. However, it provides the most cost-effective and straightforward investment pathway to citizenship in a European Union country. Qualifying investors need only spend one week per year in Portugal for a period of five years to become eligible to apply for citizenship (applicants are also subject to having a basic E2 level of Portuguese).

While the programme is going through some big changes in 2022, it remains the ‘Gold Standard’ programme within the investment migration industry providing investors with the chance to acquire citizenship in an EU Country and get their hands on a Tier 1 passport in just five years.

It is no longer possible to invest in real estate in Lisbon or Porto and the minimum investment amount for qualifying investment funds has been raised to 500k. However, the popular €280,000 EUR investment category remains open for those interested in investing into eligible rehabilitation projects in low density areas of Portugal. Outside of mainland Portugal Madeira is another interesting option. As for commercial real estate the new restrictions do not apply and there are some attractive Hotel projects on the market in major cities including Lisbon and Porto that will remain Golden Visa eligible in 2022.

Complimentary consultations with Lincoln Global Partners in partnership with AD & Partners
Lincoln Global Partners, an international immigration consultancy firm has partnered with local market experts A.D. & Partners in order to provide an unrivalled on the ground experience for clients in Nigeria interested in acquiring a second citizenship by investment.

Both parties have seen a significant shift in the mindset of High Net Worth families in Nigeria during the pandemic. With the current unstable and unpredictable international climate, inquiries from the region have soared. What was once seen as a luxury asset to improve visa-travel access and provide educational and healthcare benefits is now considered by many Nigerians as a must-have asset. It appears that in 2022, no one is willing to take any risks.

Lincoln is an Investment Migration Consultant and Global Mobility Specialist. He wrote from London.