Becoming a global citizen

PWMarco Gantenbein manages Henley & Partners’ Dubai office l Image Credit: Henley & Partner

Home to one of the highest concentrations of millionaires in the world, the UAE was an easy pick for advisory firm Henley & Partners to serve as its headquarters for the Middle East and North Africa (Mena). The UAE has around 72,100 high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs), according to a Research and Markets study. The study also reveals that the Middle East is one of the fastest-growing HNWI markets in the world with some 460,000 millionaires, a 136 per cent increase from 2000-14. By comparison, the global growth rate stood at only 73 per cent during the same period.

More importantly, there is growing appetite for investment in the region. According to CBRE, global real estate investments in the Middle East have already reached $11.5 billion (Dh42.23 billion) in the first half of the year, despite oil prices remaining under pressure. Qatar and the UAE are ranked fifth and seventh as the top sources of cross-border capital globally, with $5.24 billion and $4.54 billion invested in real estate respectively.

Henley & Partners says it wants to add even more value to every dirham invested by the region’s HNWIs by offering the possibility of obtaining a second passport or residency. In such schemes, an applicant mainly has to make a donation, an investment or a combination of both to become eligible for citizenship or residency. In some countries such as Cyprus, an investment in real estate is one of the easiest routes to securing a second passport.

Residency programmes for real estate investors
Preferred by GCC citizens as countries in the region do not allow dual citizenship. Residency in certain countries allows them to travel freely for business, leisure and investment.


Citizenship programmes for real estate investors
Preferred mainly by non-GCC citizens looking for easy travel to many countries and a more secure place for retirement.


In an interview with PW, Marco Gantenbein, Managing Partner of the firm’s Dubai office, explains why obtaining citizenship or residency by investment is gaining popularity in the region.

Can you talk briefly about the company?
Henley & Partners started in 1997 out of Switzerland and then we moved our headquarters to Jersey in Europe and started to work in this specific sector. We created the concept of residence and citizenship by investment, mainly in the late 90s. We now have 24 offices around the world and more than 200 people working in this field. We are recognised as the world’s leading expert in citizenship and residence planning.

In Dubai we started in 2011. We chose Dubai because it has the best environment in the region for us to do business, but also to attract highly educated employees from around the world. Our clientele is from the whole Mena.

Do you have any branches in the region?
Not yet. We are working on it, but Dubai will be the regional centre. We will open a small office in Abu Dhabi next year.

What services do you provide?
On one hand we design, implement, operate and position this investment programme on behalf of the government. From when we started in 1997 until now, Henley & Partners has already helped to raise more than $4 billion in direct foreign investment for different jurisdictions.

On the other hand, we also consult and assist applicants around the world to do this option. We give them options and help with the requirements.

How did this industry start?
We were really the pioneer in this industry. It was mainly Henley & Partners that started to develop these programmes with the governments in the late 1990s. We started mainly in Austria, which was our first real famous programme. The industry is not something that has a big history. It only came up in the past 10 years. We had also worked on Swiss immigration at that time. We started in 1997 as a law firm. Our chairman, Christian Kalin, is a lawyer and he was the founder of the company. He was called the king of passports.

Why do countries offer such programmes?
It helps the country get talented and highly skilled people who can contribute to its development. Some countries offer this based on property investment and that attracts a lot of direct foreign investment. For them it brings talented, wealthy people to the country, and also boosts the economy.

Why do people apply for such programmes?
This can be a benefit for education, visa-free travel, business, easier banking, etc. Some do it for their children or family. After the Arab Spring, there were a lot of people who wanted a second residence somewhere where they could bring the family out immediately without getting visas. An EU citizenship, for example, allows you to live and work in any of the EU countries. And that’s why Henley & Partners is also called a firm of global citizens. We help people to become global citizens.

Which programmes are more attractive from a real estate investment perspective?
Some countries they don’t allow dual citizenship [such as the GCC states], so for citizens of these countries, residence by investment is interesting. That can be a programme like Portugal or the UK. Portugal is in big demand because it’s based on real estate purchase with a minimum physical stay requirement and an excellent tax regimen. This of course attracts citizens from GCC countries [where dual citizenship is not allowed]. The UK is also popular, but you have to physically spend much more days.

Then you have countries that recognise dual citizenship, and there’s quite a lot in the Mena region such as Lebanon and Egypt. Cyprus is based on real estate and it’s a citizenship programme.

Then you have Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean, where you also can become a citizen based on real estate purchase and the requirements are lower than in Cyprus. You only have to make as $400,000 real estate purchase in qualified areas in Antigua and you can become citizen.

What’s the most practical options for GCC citizens?
A residency programme. There is high demand for residency in EU countries among GCC nationals.

Which countries are most popular for a second citizenship?
In the Mena, we really speak of Malta and Cyprus in the EU, plus Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean. Those are the top three citizenship-by-investment solutions. Of course, there’s a difference between the Caribbean solution and the EU solution.

The EU solution gives you the right to live or retire in any of the EU countries, while a Caribbean passport from Antigua, for example, gives you the right to travel in those countries, but it does not give you the right to live or work in the EU.

How strong is the demand in the region?
We had an immediate huge demand from Iraq in the past months, as well as Syria. Egypt two years ago saw quite a big demand, which came down a little bit now. After the Arab Spring there was huge demand. But this always depends. For example, UAE nationals now have visa-free travel to the Schengen zone, so maybe the demand there will relax.

There are countries where a certain programme is increasing heavily, sometimes by 100 per cent, and you have programmes where the demand is really no longer there. In Portugal, Lebanon is the top three where the programme is in demand.

Are you a global citizen yourself? Do you hold a second passport?
I am Swiss and I could apply for Belgian citizenship if want to, but not under an investment route. I could, but I don’t have a need at this stage. But I have people in my team who have availed of this programme.

Source: Jobannie Tabada, Features Editor, Property WeeklyPW

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