Citizenship and residency – who is offering what and why?

Speakers: Withers LLP: Chris Priestley, Tracy Evlogidis (UK), Reaz Jafri (US), Giulia Cipollini (Italy), Stacy Choong (Asia)

Q: Is Brexit damaging the world’s view of the UK as a place to live and invest in?
A: No, I don’t think it is, certainly not from what we have seen in the London immigration practice. Initially after the vote, there was huge scaremongering by the media but that has settled now, and the UK is still seen as a comparatively stable environment in which to live and invest.

Q: Are you seeing a lot of planning for people thinking of leaving London?
A: We don’t typically see this in the UK immigration practice, as they don’t instruct me and instead look for immigration advice in their intended host country.

Q: With the recent case of the UK delaying investor visas for oligarchs, what is the message for families from other jurisdictions.
A: It has been widely publicised that the UK is scrutinising visa applications from Russian nationals in a way that it hasn’t previously. Having said that, every application is on a case by case basis, and we are still regularly getting non-Russian visas processed within a short time-frame, eg 2-3 weeks.

Q: What are you advising your EU clients who are resident in the UK with regard to permanent residence/citizenship?
A: Our recommendation is that for certainty in very uncertain times, if an EU national is eligible to apply for permanent residence, then they should. The Uk will introduce a new form of registration for EU nationals starting later this year, and there will be considerable transition periods, but surely it would be prudent to secure permanent residency now with the laws we have in place. Going on to secure British citizenship is a very personal matter for lots of people but again, to do so, gives additional options in going forward.

Q: Is there a way to get senior secondments into the UK after Brexit?
A: It is without doubt that the UK will want to continue to secure senior talent and it is therefore extremely likely that the seconding of senior EU nationals will be accommodated. Failing that, there is always Tier 2 sponsoring available.

Q: Is the US becoming far more attractive due to its tax reforms?
A: The US has been very attractive for a very long and many reasons. Among them is the fact it is not a CRS participant, does not tax wealth, and provides a safe haven for financial and hard assets. Certainly, the recent tax reforms with lower corporate tax rates and increased estate tax exemptions have made it more attractive.

Q: How easy is it to move to Switzerland?
A: For EU nationals, relatively easy. For non-EU citizens, still quite accessible if they are wealthy. Residence is relatively straightforward. Citizenship is quite difficult.

Q: What wealth planning advice would you give the new Duchess of Sussex?
A: Renounce US citizenship, otherwise a child born to her and Prince Harry will be a US citizen by birth and could result in Harry’s estate, should it be bequeathed to their children, being subject to US taxes.

Q: Having multiple nationalities is seen as an asset. Which citizenship’s do you advise your clients to acquire?
A: As an initial risk management point, I believe having citizenship in a country that allows multiple citizenship’s is critical. Also, the second passport must be flexible and provide visa free travel to as much of the word as possible. Third, the country should have a favorable tax system (low corporate, personal, capital gains tax, no estate or death tax, no forced heirship) and strong extradition treaties. Finally, citizenship should be easy to acquire and not impose significant residence requirement as a pre-condition. For these reasons and while Switzerland, Singapore, Germany, America and others are “triple A” passports, they are difficult to obtain. Therefore countries like Cyprus, Malta, Montenegro, Cayman Islands, Hong Kong and New Zealand are very attractive. If one needs a quick passport with great utility, the Caribbean options are good. My preferred one is Grenada because it allows visa-free travel to China, Russia and has a bilateral investment treaty with the US.

Q: With the recent case of the UK delaying investor visa for oligarchs, what is the message for families from other jurisdictions?
A: Your money won’t protect you; the right to live and work somewhere will. Residence does not provide this right, but citizenship does.

Q: Is there any point in acquiring a second citizenship from a ‘weaker’ state if they do not provide the client with some form of security?
A: Or should clients only focus in acquiring second citizenship of a hegemon or well established countries? Absolutely. Passports from ‘weaker’ states are helpful because they provide visa free travel to EU, Schengen and Commonwealth as many other countries. Ideally, a passport from one of these countries should not be your only passport unless you are citizen of such country through birth, marriage or some other “right”.

Q: Are some investor visas just passports for sale?
A: Rather than providing any economic benefit to the country. All such programs provide benefits to their countries and often in a significant way. It is misplaced cynicism to think otherwise.

Q: How long do you feel that the EU will tolerate both Malta and Cyprus to continue with their citizenship by investment programs? Do you worry if change in governments in Malta or Cyprus could perhaps rescind citizenships granted by the prior governments?
A: Hard to crystal ball this but I don’t see the EU shutting these down. The economies and citizens of Malta and Cyprus have benefited tremendously from the investment wealthy individuals have made, which has made them financially strong. A strong Malta and Cyprus is good for Europe. Also, the quality of people becoming citizens of Cyprus and Malta is quite good. One must have no criminal background and be able to document the source of wealth. Anyone who thinks these programs are being abused does not know the facts.

Q: Is it easier to move to the US east coast or west coast from Asia, or is there no difference?
A: There is no difference in moving to NY as opposed to California.

Q: Is a green card still the easiest way to stay in US?
A: Hardly. Treaty visas (E-1/E-2), extraordinary ability (O-1) and Intracompany Transfer (L-1) are easier, faster and better from a tax perspective.

Q: If income from UK employment and other UK sources such as UK property results in above average income tax and NI rates over 60%, is there any benefit in considering citizenship outside the UK? If so where?
A: Absolutely. Any of the jurisdictions mentioned above.