UK to scrutinize global economic citizenship programs amid national security concerns

UK to scrutinize global economic citizenship programs amid national security concerns
Published on: 21 February 2023

Highlighting the national security concerns posed by economic citizenship schemes, a high-ranking UK government official called for a review of extant programs globally. As first reported by the UK Telegraph, according to Tom Tugendhat, Security Minister for the United Kingdom, economic citizenship programs could present a security risk to the UK by allowing disreputable individuals access to the country via a “backdoor.”

Speaking on February 8th, at the Global Financial Integrity Conference in Washington, DC., Tugendhat outlined the relatively recent (within the past two and three decades) proliferation of CBI programs globally. Economic citizenship, he explained, allow foreigners to “purchase” citizenship from other countries through real estate or other forms of Citizenship by Investment (CBI). In exchange, they receive financial and lifestyle benefits and other perks, including a national passport. In this way, a recipient of economic citizenship obtains a second passport which, depending on the visa requirements in place between the UK and the new country of citizenship, may allow him or her to travel visa-free to the United Kingdom. In effect, economic citizenship provides individuals a pathway to the UK and other European countries, which might previously have been closed to them, due to the travel restrictions inherent to their original passport. Because the UK has no control over the vetting process for candidates pursuing CBI, the possibility exists that these countries could bestow CBI on candidates who are politically or financially corrupt, or even violent. In doing so, individuals who might present a security risk to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (the UK) could freely enter these countries in the absence of a visa for reasons such as tourism, study, medical treatment, or business. As a result, individuals who would otherwise be forced to apply for a UK visa (and who would be rejected if they applied) are able to enter the country freely through CBI, through what Tugendhat terms a “back door.”

While the cost of Citizenship by Investment varies within and across programs, CBI can be obtained for just $100,000 USD. Countries offering CBI schemes include Caribbean and Pacific islands, as well as South American and other states globally. In keeping with Tugendhat’s remarks, some or all of these countries may be called to further restrict their vetting process for candidates. Countries which do not fall into line on this issue may be subject to diplomatic pressure and other measures up to and including the cessation of visa-waiver agreements between themselves and the UK.

The UK’s wariness of global CBI programs reflects its commitment to tightening its own economic visa program. While the country previously offered UK residency to high-net-worth individuals through its investor visa scheme, that visa is no longer available. That program, which offered renewable three-year UK residency at a cost of two million dollars per applicant, was scrapped in February of last year due to the security risks presented by individuals who took advantage of the program to move to the UK. In doing so, the government ended a popular avenue to the UK nationality (obtainable after five-years spent living in the country), principally over concerns that some recipients had committed financial or political crimes.

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