How Does ‘Citizenship By Investment’ Work?

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Posted: 31st March 2022 by
Jean-François Harvey
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Residency and citizenship by investment (RCBI) programs are designed to aid high-net-worth individuals in immigrating to a country.

How do RCBI programs vary between different countries?

Today, there are over 80 countries around the world that offer some form of RCBI program. To understand how programs vary, it is first important to make a distinction between “migration/residency” and “citizenship”. A common misconception about RCBI is that it is only utilised to facilitate migration. However, well-informed individuals understand that it is a powerful wealth management and lifestyle planning tool. For instance, some HNWIs opt to secure Turkish Citizenship as a way to gain faster access to E2 immigration opportunities to ultimately migrate to the USA rather than to move to Turkey. On the other hand, investors may aim to migrate to countries without wanting to obtain citizenship, like the programs offered in Europe through the Golden Visa programs.

What attracts HNWI and business executives to RCBI programs is the myriad of benefits that a second passport or residency brings, such as global mobility, access to better healthcare or education, employment opportunities, relief from climate or political instability, or tax benefits.

Specifically, those seeking additional or alternative citizenship without wishing to relocate to a new country may choose one of the Caribbean citizenship programs such as Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Lucia since they do not require local residency before granting citizenship. Caribbean passports are also popular among HNWIs and business executives who wish to secure a powerful second passport that can enhance their global mobility.

Additionally, business executives looking to establish themselves or their business in a tax-efficient jurisdiction or seek expedited processing times are drawn to the Monaco Residency Permit and the Panama Qualified Investor Visa.

What attracts HNWI and business executives to RCBI programs is the myriad of benefits that a second passport or residency brings

On the other hand, HNWIs with families may seek to acquire EU permanent residency to give their children access to a good quality of life, medical care and world-class education such as through the Portugal Golden Visa or the France Talent Passport Investor.

For HNWIs or business executives wanting to relocate to a different country, what does the immigration process generally look like?

The immigration process varies depending on the investment program chosen. The type of program an applicant chooses may vary in accordance with their immigration goals, expectations, and availability of funds. Processing time is also a key factor to consider. The approval of some programs may take only four weeks; others could take years.

Stage 1: Identify Your Immigration Goals

First, an applicant needs to clearly define their immigration goals and the principal reasons for immigration. Some possible reasons include starting a business, providing better education for their children, accessing better healthcare services, or related reasons. Others wish to take advantage of global mobility that comes with having a strong second passport that provides visa-free travel to over 100+ countries or to avoid foreign policy blowback, or simply having a Plan B for the security of themselves and their family. Having clear expectations will allow the applicant to choose the right investment visa program.

Stage 2: Compare Different Investment Immigration Programs

At this stage, the applicant is recommended to review the list of investment immigration programs available and compile a list of programs that aligns with their immigration goals. Some factors that should also be considered when reviewing these programs include the processing time, the type and amount of investment and any restrictions associated with the program (such as travel or relocation limitations).

Stage 3: Consult With an Immigration Lawyer

Ultimately, as these programs are strategically utilised by wealthy individuals to help achieve their personal goals, it is imperative that interested parties engage the services of reputable immigration firms in order to determine which program best meets their needs.

The approval of some programs may take only four weeks; others could take years.

Working with experienced immigration professionals has multiple benefits. As professionals, they can assist applicants through the financial pre-planning, program selection and application process. Their experience allows them to offer solutions for investors on any potential issues the applicant might face. Not only that, but as programs are used by governments to attract foreign investments, they also change based on how well or how poorly local economies perform. Thus, advice from a reputable lawyer will be paramount to ensure investors know the most accurate, up-to-date information on a program.

Keep in mind that communication with lawyers and attorneys is confidential and can only be disclosed by means of a court order, unlike an immigration consultant. Only lawyers and attorneys have the statutory right to hold an applicant’s funds into escrow and maintain a professional insurance. Additionally, lawyers and attorneys have a statutory duty to always act in the interests of their clients and provide them with all the necessary information to make informed decisions.

What are the major variations in this process from country to country?

Each RCBI varies widely in terms of investment form, amount and process. Generally, the process starts with a pre-assessment, KYC, eligibility checks and due diligence. Immigration lawyers then prepare and submit the application forms along with the supporting documents. The investor will then make the qualifying investment and then the visa or passport is issued.

Whilst this is a general overview, the processes for RCBI can be understood better depending on the type of qualifying investment made. For instance, start-up visas such as the one offered by Canada generally require an eligibility assessment and selection by a start-up incubator, securing a letter of acceptance or a commitment certificate from the incubator, and submitting completed application forms and the required documents. After this, a work permit is issued so that the main applicant and their dependents can enter the destination country, enabling the applicant to work on setting up and developing the start-up whilst their residency visa is processing.

Each RCBI varies widely in terms of investment form, amount and process.

On the other hand, for a real estate investment, the applicant must typically open a bank account in the respective country, transfer their funds into the bank account, obtain a certificate from the bank confirming that they have received the funds and then purchase the real estate with the funds in the bank account. After the property is purchased, the applicant submits the completed application forms to the competent authority and then receives the visa or passport, depending on the program selected.

Are there any common difficulties that arise during this process?

The entire immigration journey, whether to be in a Residency by Investment or Citizenship by Investment program, can take a significant amount of time, resources and focus over an extended period. As such, most people find it challenging to navigate through the entire procedure alone, especially since one needs to ensure the qualifying investment is made correctly and in accordance with a country’s legal framework.

Generally, as long as an applicant meets a program’s eligibility criteria, is not found to be ineligible and submits all the necessary supporting documents (birth certificates, source of funds, police check, etc.), the process is relatively straightforward. However, problems tend to arise when an applicant is unable to provide such documentation or there are issues with the documents provided.

Although RCBI can be used as a powerful financial planning and wealth management tool, there is no program that fits all.  Working with an experienced, government-appointed immigration firm will not only improve your chances of successfully completing the process and approval, but it also protects the applicant from any kind of immigration fraud.

How is HLG keeping pace with these RCBI programs? 

With over 30 years of Residency and Citizenship-By-Investment experience, HLG have a proven track record which has been showcased by the number of high-net-worth individuals and families HLG have assisted in improving their global mobility and with obtaining a second citizenship/residency to achieve their goals. Between 2020 and 2021 alone, we assisted no fewer than 200 applicants and families.

New Programs

With our local insights and global expertise, as well as an understanding of cultural nuances, HLG continues to play an important role in shaping the investment immigration landscape. We offer more than 30 immigration programs tailored to the diverse needs of ultra-high-net-worth or high-net-worth individuals and families in Hong Kong, Greater China, and beyond.

HLG has onboarded 4 new programs in the past few years. This includes the Singapore SUV, Panama QII, Monaco Resident Permit and British National Overseas visa. This brings the total global mobility solutions that HLG provides up to 40 programs across the world… not to forget the new and exciting programs still to come.


New Departments

To support our clients’ needs, HLG continues to attract a diversified team of professionals, spearheading diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Our team includes professionals from diverse backgrounds, both culturally and academically with many lawyers qualified in various major jurisdictions.

HLG has also launched a new department during the past year. The formalised Due Diligence department for the business has opened up new opportunities both internally and externally. It has allowed HLG to work together with outside service providers and ensure that the information being transmitted is accurate and up to date.


Jean-François Harvey, Managing Partner

Harvey Law Group

Units 2505-6, 25/F China Online Centre,

333 Lockhart Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong

Tel: +852 2116 1333

Fax: +852 2116 1332



Jean-François Harvey is the founder and managing partner of Harvey Law Group, recognised internationally as an expert in immigration law. He has accrued vast experience in the sector by providing comprehensive immigration law services to corporations and HNWIs. He is also experienced in commercial legal matters, having advised on numerous high-value due diligence and merger and acquisition activities across a broad range of industries.

Founded in 1992 and headquartered in Hong Kong, HLG has since developed into a leading multinational law firm. From its global offices, HLG advises on a range of legal matters including investment and business immigration, corporate law and a range of private client services.

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