COVID-19 impact: Many UAE expats are buying a second passport; applications rise by 30%
Since March, enquiries from people looking for second nationality up by over 60%
Image used for illustrative purpose. Passport sitting on antique map.
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By Cleofe Maceda, ZAWYA
A growing number of UAE expats are looking for a second passport, driven mainly by the uncertainty surrounding almost every aspect of the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with travel and mobility restrictions, industry sources told Zawya.
UAE expats from India, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine are among those who are buying second passports. Since the onset of the outbreak, UAE-based citizenship advisers have been swamped with enquiries and applications from residents looking for hassle-free travel around the world to secure their own and their families' futures.
Some of these firms reported a surge in enquiries by more than 60 percent, and applications by around 30 percent during the outbreak.
Immigration and foreign entry rules in many countries aren’t always easy. Many travellers find themselves go through a tedious process of securing an entry permit, filling up forms and undergoing screenings to visit a country prior to travelling. A second passport from a country with visa-free access to much of the world can change all that.
This desire to move freely was highlighted at the onset of the pandemic, when most people found themselves stuck either in their home country or overseas—many of them separated from their families.
“When the pandemic started, those with strong passports had the option to move their families to a stable country with reliable healthcare and feel safe under governments that make sensible decisions. For those who hold less desired passports, this pandemic has accelerated the urgency to obtain a second nationality, a passport that allows them to travel outside their countries when they need to do so, without having to plan ahead and worry about visa complications,” said Veronica Cotdemiey, CEO of Citizenship Invest.
“This crisis has given people quality time to reflect about essential issues, about their lives and in what position they want to be if this was to happen again. People have realised that they strongly need a plan B, no matter if they have solid jobs or businesses, as this goes beyond financial security,” she added.
Since March, Citizenship Invest received approximately 5,000 enquiries from potential applicants, up by about 66 percent compared to the same period last year.
At Bluemina, another citizenship advisor, the number of applications in the UAE surged by 30 percent since May and applicants have been looking at destinations that can offer them better social services, as well as good quality healthcare and education for their family and children.
“In the first quarter of the year 2020, when the pandemic started, people were uncertain and there was a sense of unease through all aspects of life. Decisions were put on hold, things were unclear. However, a few months down the line, expats from the GCC and citizens from the MENA region started considering dual passports by seeking countries with secure social services, healthcare and quality education,” Wasim Daoud, CEO of Bluemina.
Who are buying a second citizenship?
Residents with a lot of disposable income to spare have been the biggest market for alternative passports. However, there has also been huge demand coming from average income earners, even from people who are not married.
“It’s a common belief that citizenship by investment is only for high-net-worth individuals, which is not the case nowadays. We have noticed the trend of different people applying, whether single applicants or with families,” said Daoud.
“Younger generation applicants have also been increasing, as well as investors and businessmen who are looking to expand their businesses abroad and secure their families’ future,” Daoud added.
Several of Bluemina’s applicants are from countries across the region, including Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia, as well as expatriates in the GCC.
How much are they spending?
Second passports don’t come cheap, as a lot of the options available in the market today are tied with investment programmes. People can obtain a second nationality in exchange for an investment, which can be a home purchase or a business.
Among the applicants in the UAE and around the region, applicants are willing to spend anywhere from $100,000 to $1.5 million, according to Seikaly.
However, the benefits are deemed worth the high costs. Those with a second nationality are now able to travel to over 100 destinations without prior visa.
According to Cotdemiey, the limitations of mobility due to the coronavirus restrictions imposed worldwide have made more people value the importance of having more than one passport.
“Living in the Middle Eastern country or being an expat in GCC makes you realize the importance of having a second passport and the importance of being a global citizen,” she said.
“Having a second passport gives you the freedom to travel, whether for work, leisure or education. During this pandemic, people faced many restrictions and difficulties in applying for a visa. Also, issues relating to visa processing are complex and rapidly changing,” she added.
A lot of their applicants, she said, are UAE-based expatriates from Libya, Syria, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Egypt.
Popular second passports
Within Europe, Portugal appears to be highly sought after among second-passport applicants. The reason is simple, the country offers the most cost-effective programme to eventually acquire citizenship of the European Union without ever residing in Portugal, said Cotdemiey.
“Investors from UAE acquire Portuguese residence with a long-term view. After five years of holding the residency, they could apply for citizenship, and with a Portuguese passport in hand, they could live anywhere in the 27 countries of the European Union,” she said.
Also popular are the residency programmes by several Caribbean countries. In June and July, these states amended their citizenship by investment programmes to offer lower prices, as well as new types of attractive investment options. They also allow siblings of applicants to be part of the applications, which is something not common in immigration laws.
“This, combined with the urgency created by the pandemic, has made the Caribbean citizenship programmes the most popular to obtain a second citizenship in only a few months,” said Cotdemiey.
Passports from the dual-island nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, as well as St Lucia, are particularly in high demand among fans of the Caribbean.
“Saint Kitts and Nevis introduced the first-ever citizenship by investment programme in 1984 which makes it the most established and strongest citizenship by investment programme. Saint Kitts and Nevis passport, obtained in less than six months… allows visa-free travel to over 160 destinations including Schengen countries, United Kingdom, Singapore and Hong Kong,” said Daoud.
(Reporting by Cleofe Maceda; editing by Seban Scaria)
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