A growing number of people worldwide are seeking workarounds to travel abroad as lockdowns, visitor restrictions, and sealed borders have clipped their wings.
Global inquiries that the deVere Group received for second passports, citizenships, and overseas residencies were up by more than 50% in 2020 from the previous year, according to the financial advisory firm that serves more than 100,000 clients worldwide and offers a residency and citizen service.
“Whether it be for personal reasons, such as to remain with loved ones overseas or be able to visit them, or for business reasons, a growing number of people are seeking ways to secure their freedom of movement,” said Nigel Green, founder and CEO, deVere Group, in a statement, “as they have faced travel restrictions which are, typically, based on citizenship.”
Second passports and dual citizenships have long been a hallmark of ultra-high net-worth individuals, particularly from limited visa countries like China and Russia, to provide broader flexibility for education, travel, tax liabilities, healthcare, and business opportunities.
But now that the access provided by the U.S. passport — once among the strongest passports pre-pandemic — has dramatically shrunk, more Americans are catching on to the trend, too, said Armand Arton, founder of Passport Index.
“The real shock came for U.S. citizens who never really thought about a second passport or do I really need one,” Arton said, “because they were always able to travel to nearly 85% of the countries around the world without ever applying for a visa.”
The deVere Group also noted that the majority of inquiries it received last year came from affluent individuals in the U.S. — along with those in India, South Africa, Russia, the Middle East and East Asia.
COVID-19 has since changed those fortunes for American travelers. Prior to the pandemic, the U.S. passport was seated at No. 3 and has since fallen to No. 19, meaning fewer countries are accessible to Americans.
“The demand and inquiries from U.S. citizens is definitely bigger in terms of percentage from the rest of the world, who have increased maybe by 50%,” Arton said.
Just because this strategy is gaining in popularity, it remains largely unattainable for most of the masses. Property investments, one route to securing a second citizenship faster than naturalization, start around $350,000 for certain Caribbean nations.
Second passports make countries money
Some countries are welcoming the trend.
For those smaller and less wealthy ones that depend on tourism but aren’t capable of distributing stimulus checks or propping up citizens with government programs, citizenship-by-investment programs are advantageous and prosperous.
For example, Barbados introduced a program in July welcoming foreign visitors to the country for up to 12 months, extending the previous limit for U.S. passport holders without a visa by six months. These alternative investment strategies are now necessities for some countries, according to Arton.
He said governments should be asking themselves: “How can we benefit, how can we attract tourists, how can we attract investments into the other sectors,” so a given country’s economy doesn’t hinge on a single industry that can be shut down overnight.
No new official citizenship or investment programs launched in 2020 because laws related to passports or residency aren’t considered a priority and travel bans are still in place, but those programs may gain traction in the future.
The economic crisis and pandemic is going to “turn more and more countries into looking to expand or introduce such programs for second residence or citizenship,” Arton said.
“The pandemic has brought into sharp focus what really matters to people,” Green added, “family, freedom, and security.”