How you can buy a British passport—the dangerous commodification of citizenship

Of note:

Last week, the UK Nationality and Borders Bill passed in the Commons. The Bill gave the home secretary Priti Patel the power to strip British people with dual nationality or born abroad of their citizenship without needing to warn them first. Three thousand miles away, in a conference centre in Dubai, a collection of lawyers, wealth managers, immigration experts and High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) were selling and shopping for visas and passports. The event hosted “the right advisers and government contacts” to help applicants “get ahead in life in countries such as Canada, USA, UK, Spain, Greece, Germany, Bulgaria,” including promising to hand-hold applicants through the UK’s investor visa process, where a £2m investment can be exchanged for long-term residency. Both events are representative of shifting currents in global citizenship. But who gets citizenship—and why? Who gets to keep it—and who doesn’t?

The commodification of citizenship began in the 1980s. When the Caribbean islands of St Kitts & Nevis attained independence from Britain, the economy was hindered by a colonial-era reliance on sugar exports. Selling citizenship represented a perfect economic opportunity. An existing resource with apparently unlimited supply, low overheads and limited human capital requirements, selling passports could deliver a direct injection of cash for the government. At $150,000 for a family of four, with no obligation to live or even visit the islands, the passports include access to tax-free income and visa-free travel to over 130 countries. For St Kitts and its customers alike—a diverse group of wealthy investors largely from developing countries from which travel is restricted—there seemed to be few downsides, besides potential displeasure from other countries.

At first, uptake was slow. But after a dramatic slashing of the EU import price for sugar in 2006, the Kittitian government enlisted the help of Henley & Partners, a London law firm, to give the programme a boost. Their influence was profound. In the following eight years, the percentage of St Kitts GDP derived from the citizenship-by-investment (or “CBI”) programme jumped from 1 to 25 per cent. Today, CBI is a booming international industry worth an estimated $3bn.

In short, St Kitts commodified citizenship, and Henley commercialised it. Now operated by around 100 countries around the world, CBI programmes offer a passport or residency permit in exchange for a one-time payment or a hefty real estate investment. Prices range from $130,000 for a single applicant (Vanuatu) to several millions (the UK) to schemes about which little public information is available (Switzerland, Austria). The innovation of CBI is in bypassing the linguistic, cultural or employment-related migration requirements usually tightly enforced by governments when the person involved isn’t incredibly rich. It has also spawned an entire industry. Search “citizenship by investment” on Google and a slew of adverts for agents, lawyers, due diligence firms and advisers appear, all hungry for their share of the application fee. There are even CBI influencers: Nomad Capitalist, a YouTube channel, garners millions of views each year for videos with titles like “12 Second Residence Permits with a Simple Bank Deposit.”

Source: How you can buy a British passport—the dangerous commodification of citizenship

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

2 Responses to How you can buy a British passport—the dangerous commodification of citizenship

  1. Robert Addington says:

    A corrupt and disreputable practice.

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