Wealthy Nigerians buying foreign homes for residency, dual citizenship
The Guardian learnt that over 20 countries in the world offer an easy path to citizenship through property investment either directly or indirectly (residency). The bigger the investment amount, the easier getting citizenship.
Known as Citizenship by Investment (CBI), the concept, which is becoming increasingly attractive allows wealthy individuals fast track to second citizenship and passport in return for investment into real estate or a donation to government fund.
The Guardian learnt that due to the movement restrictions globally and new immigration laws, free passage to countries in Europe and others like United States, the programme is now popular and arousing much interest.
Specifically, Nigeria has been named among countries where the scheme is becoming increasingly attractive to the rich and creating demand for property based citizenship programmes abroad.
Other countries are China, Russia, Lebanon, Middle East (UAE, Saudi-Arabia, Qatar), Pakistan, India, South Africa, Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Egypt and Libya.
For Nigeria, the insecurity situation, political instability and unfavourable economic policies are triggering the quest for additional citizenship as a precautionary measure in case these threats worsen in the country.
The CIB scheme has created appeal to Nigerian politicians, top-flight businessmen and industrialists. Estate surveyors and valuers told The Guardian that they have been receiving enquiries for the programme, especially for US, Canadian and European countries.
Many of the professionals and other estate consultants have assisted interested clients to process their documents. Nigerian applicants show more interest for CIB programmes in Spain, Malta, Portugal, United States, Greece, Germany, Ireland, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Seychelles and Austria.
In most of these countries offering the programmes, it has also become a source of revenues and lifeline for sponsoring countries to attract for high net worth individuals and entrepreneurs. Some of the countries financed their capital budgets through the CBI funds.
For instance, with EUR 500,000 property purchase in Spain (home, apartment, villa), the applicant gains permanent residency in the EU and free movement in the Schengen zone. There is no requirement to live in Spain while citizenship will be after 10 years of uninterrupted living in Spain (non-EU).
Malta offers an option to buy property either through citizenship (EUR 1 million) or residency scheme (EUR 250,000). Citizenship or residency in the EU schengen area through Malta. The processing time is 15 months (citizenship) and three months (residency).
In Portugal, the purchase of EUR 350,000 property purchase in Portugal (home, apartment, villa) qualifies for permanent residency in the EU. The citizenship after six years of uninterrupted living through the golden visa programme.
The United Arab Emirates (UAEs) recently-launched permanent residency scheme, which could be a game changer and provide a fillip to the real estate market by encouraging expatriates to invest in property and settle in the Gulf nation.
The “Gold Card” programme announced recently by UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum is open to investors and “exceptional talents” such as doctors, engineers, scientists, students and artists.
The UAE already offers long-term visas valid for five to 10 years to property investors, entrepreneurs and people with exceptional talents without the need for a local sponsor. A minimum investment of $13,61,225) is needed to obtain a five-year visa, and double that amount is necessary for a decade-long visa.
Similarly, $500,000 business investment (in real estate projects approved by EB-5 regional centre) in United States qualifies for immediate permanent residence (Green card) in the US including for family. One can live anywhere in the US while citizenship is guaranteed after five years.
In Germany, EUR 300,000 property investment in a German city, enables one to live, work in Germany with family, free movement in Schengen zone and citizenship after five years of uninterrupted living in the country.
Also, $400,000 property investment in Seychelles real estate (homes, villas, flats) earns foreign investor five year in permanent residence permit with family. Citizenship can be obtained after 10 years of living.
Leading experts in real estate sector admitted that the motivation is economic. “Most people are looking forward to secure their children so with citizenship investment, they passing on to their offspring an opportunity in another country,” according to Gbenga Ismail, Chairman, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), Nigeria chapter.
He said: “Spain Portugal draw a lot of enquiries currently. Some of the Caribbean Island countries are also offering options. Of course you know Canada is now a major draw on many accounts.
“The most popular now is Canada but for very different reasons. You have Portugal, which draws a different crowd. “The middle and upper class really. They are the ones who can afford that sort of investment. The major objective here is buying an option for your children,” he added.
The Chairman, Lagos branch, Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV), Dotun Bamigbola explained that due to the knowledge and financial capacity bracket required for this class of investment, the number of enquiry has always been limited.
“These countries also have critical real estate investment data like the property index, ROI, and readily available for investors so it is easier to make investment decision. The process is not cumbersome and there is easier access to registered property and exchange of interest in real estate unlike Nigeria.
“Particularly before 2015, it has always been US, Dubai and Ireland that are countries of choice. As the economy situation tightened up few countries considered to be lesser in value might have come up but be rest assured that Nigerians will go for the top countries anytime.“The cost of such investment and traveling to this countries define the class of people who will venture. Mostly it is the upper middle class and definitely the upper class income earners, “ he said.
In his view, an estate surveyor and President, International Right of Way Association (IRWA), Chapter 84, Nigeria, Emmanuel Mark said the attraction is usually for better jobs, good education for their children and other reasons.
His words: “This year alone, we have done 12 valuation for our clients for the purpose of applying for resident permit for Canada, UK and US. Some also sold their property to raise money for such investments.”
Another estate surveyor, Stephen Jagun said, the countries want direct cash flow into their economy. “They target third world countries mostly. The more stable economies raise the stakes higher while the smaller ones, particularly the islands, are not as expensive.
“Most of our politicians are involved in this business. Many of them have second passports. This may be for a third reason that if their Nigerian passport is seized, they can use the other passport to move away from the country,” Jagun added.