Immigration lessons from coronavirus crisis and potential next steps

13 May 2020

COVID-19 has forced over 180+ countries into various forms of confinement. Furthermore, countries around the world have shut down borders and suspended visa processing.

In short, the world faces an unprecedented global lockdown. From an immigration perspective, what lessons can we draw from the recent crisis?

First, having visa-waiver access or a visa stamp in place prior to a crisis outbreak is vital

That's because travel bans and border closures can happen without warning, not allowing a person sufficient time to obtain a visa. The problem is compounded by the fact that many countries around the world have suspended all visa processing services.

This "perfect storm" scenario has expectedly impacted many of our clients, including some highly successful individuals and families. The problem is particularly acute for international families, where the family members do not all hold the same passport. Example: a husband has a European passport; the wife has a Chinese PRC passport; and the children have US passports. The family is seeking to exit Asia to escape the initial COVID-19 epicenter, but must make tough choices among a limited number of countries where they can all be together.

Second, visa-waiver access by itself can be unreliable, making citizenship and permanent residency (PR) the ultimate "king"

While one's passport may ordinarily allow visa-waiver access under normal conditions, many countries have shut borders to all foreigners except citizens, permanent residents, and some immediate relatives. Therefore, when looking into the future, clients should consider their worst-case scenario safe-haven location in terms of their place of citizenship or PR.

What can I do now?

It's time to start working on a Plan B. This is likely not the last pandemic or global crisis we will face in the coming years.

Even if you are currently in quarantine or under lockdown, there are steps you can take right now from the comfort of your living room in order to make progress on a new permanent residency or citizenship.

Here are just a few examples of immigration programs that do not require a physical visit in order to start the process:

  • Singapore is a high-quality destination with a high-standard of living and strong healthcare service. For an investment amount of SGD 2.5 million, qualified applicants can file for PR under the Global Investor Programme (GIP) without needing to first visit Singapore until the case has been approved within about 9-12 months.

  • For a donation amount of US$150,000, an individual can become a citizen of Caribbean nations such as St Kitts & Nevis, or Grenada, without ever having to physically visit either country. As a citizen of Grenada, for instance, one has visa waiver access to approximately 140 countries, including Mainland China. Grenada citizens are also eligible to apply for the US non-immigrant E-2 treaty investor visa, essentially America's de-facto "entrepreneur visa".

  • Finally, there is America's EB-5 "Green Card" immigrant investor program, with a current minimum investment amount of US$900,000. The process can be initiated from overseas by filing the necessary paperwork and submitting funds into escrow. There is no requirement to visit the US during the initial case processing stage of the application.

Lastly, a few tips on steps people can take now, regardless of the immigration program, in order to make progress on any future citizenship or PR case. For example, one should take a look around the house to track down their original birth and marriage certificates, since these are "evergreen" documents that all immigration programs require. Another perennial tip is to brush up one's professional CV, as applicants are universally required to list their work and education history. In fact, some countries such as the USA have extraordinary ability PR options, which allows a person to secure permanent immigration benefit simply based on prior achievement, thereby saving nearly US$1 million on investment costs.

The above are just a few examples to consider. In discussion with a professional advisor, now is a great time to begin planning for the future.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.


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