The Golden Passport: Global Mobility for Millionaires

December 7, 2023

For many, obtaining a new citizenship poses a challenge, but for the rich, the pursuit is a matter of price.
The Golden Passport: Global Mobility for Millionaires Book cover

Citizenship, a pivotal determinant influencing various facets of our lives, dictates our rights, travel privileges, and, fundamentally, our life prospects. While the process of obtaining a new citizenship poses a formidable challenge for many, for the affluent, including numerous anonymous multimillionaires, the pursuit is often reduced to a matter of price. With sufficient financial resources and the right connections, one can navigate negotiations for citizenship in various places.

In her comprehensive work, The Golden Passport: Global Mobility for Millionaires, Kristin Surak, Associate Professor of Political Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, delves into the expanding global market for citizenship, conducting an exhaustive examination of the dynamics surrounding the acquisition and sale of passports and citizenship. Her meticulous on-the-ground investigation sheds light on the intricate network involving wealthy elites, states, and brokers, revealing the transformation of a once clandestine practice into a prevalent and significant phenomenon.

Beyond exploring the less scrupulous practices of the affluent, Surak delves into Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programs. These programs offer a transparent and expeditious route to citizenship, requiring a defined financial investment that is within reach of anyone who can afford it. Notably, these programs adhere to legal processes that undergo thorough scrutiny and due diligence procedures. But is this too good to be true?

Drawing from six years of extensive fieldwork across four continents, Surak unveils the evolution of passport sales from a dubious enterprise to a thriving citizenship industry concentrated in over a dozen countries, particularly small islands in regions like the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and South Pacific. She systematically breaks down the diverse motivations behind these investments and identifies trends within the industry.

The annual issuance of citizenship to 50,000 individuals underscores the magnitude of this global phenomenon. Individuals opt for these schemes for various reasons, including:

Global Mobility: Seeking increased visa-free travel options for business, leisure, or personal reasons.

Business Opportunities: Opening new avenues for international trade and investment.

Political and Economic Stability: Mitigating risks associated with political or economic instability.

Education and Healthcare: Accessing superior education and healthcare systems.

Tax Planning: Exploring more favorable tax environments and managing tax liabilities.

Personal Security: Ensuring personal safety amid security concerns in the home country.

Diversification of Assets: Viewing a second citizenship as a strategy to diversify personal and financial assets.

Quality of Life: Enhancing overall quality of life through better living standards and improved social services.

Surak scrutinizes the motivations behind this surge, revealing that “investor citizens” often leverage their acquired passports for visa-free travel or residency in countries like the United States. Simultaneously, others view citizenship as an insurance policy or an escape from domestic state control, with livability also playing a significant role. However, notably, a complex relationship emerges between the global elite and their newly adopted countries, characterized by a reluctance to relocate.

The Golden Passport surpasses the realms of investigative journalism, establishing itself as a groundbreaking study elucidating the contentious practice that has gained traction among the affluent. Surak navigates the intricacies of the application process, extending the narrative to encompass geopolitical undercurrents propelling the citizenship industry. The book evaluates the efficacy of these programs and includes a chapter on local perspectives regarding this phenomenon.

This lucrative enterprise, thriving on uncertainties and power differentials between robust, globalized economies and diminutive states seeking investment, unfolds through compelling tales of buyers, brokers, and sellers, all poised to capitalize on the burgeoning citizenship trade. In essence, The Golden Passport transcends conventional exploration, offering readers a nuanced understanding of the contemporary global citizenship landscape.

Kristin Surak, The Golden Passport: Global Mobility for Millionaires (Harvard University Press, 2023) ISBN: 9780674248649, 336 pages

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