Another Country's Passport Turns Golden

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor, 12 November 2018


Moldova becomes the latest nation to adopt a "golden visa" regime.

Moldova has joined countries offering citizenship to high net worth individuals with a programme providing the “golden visa” for as relatively low as €100,000 ($113,320). The proliferation of such schemes has caused controversy in recent weeks amid complaints they might enable money laundering – a claim contested by practitioners in the space.

Henley & Partners, a firm advising clients about such programmes, called the Moldova Citizenship-by-Investment (MCBI) plan the “the latest and most exciting new investment migration opportunity in Europe”. Holders of a Moldova passport get access to 122 jurisdictions.

Applicants pay a minimum non-refundable sum to the Public Investment Fund, set up by the country's government to finance investment. For a single applicant, they must pay €100,000; that rises to €115,000 for a couple, €145,000 for a family of four and €155,000 for a family of five or more. The government service provider and licensed agent fees amount to €35,000 per application.

The market for such schemes has expanded rapidly in recent years, with jurisdictions such as Grenada, Malta, the UK, US, Singapore, Montenegro, Portugal, Spain and St Lucia among those operating programmes. While defenders say they are part of globalisation and drive inward investment, they are politically controversial because, some claim, they mainly benefit wealthy people. 

This publication has sought additional information from Henley & Partners about the programme and may update in due course.

‘’Whilst we welcome Moldova’s innovative approach to attracting FDI into their economy, we are pleased that the government has chosen to only grant a license to agents who are members of a global industry standard setting body such as the Investment Migration Council,” Bruno L’ecuyer, chief executive of the IMC, said in a statement to this publication. 

“The IMC is in fact the only body to have already set a rigid code of ethics and professional conduct regulating how operators conduct their business’’ L’ecuyer continued.

‘’We will be monitoring this new programme and caution operators to work within the due diligence and marketing and promotion guidelines of the Moldovan government and conduct themselves professionally at all times,” he added.

Under the Moldova programme, applicants must pay government fees of €5,000 for the main applicant, €2,500 for a spouse, €1,000 for a child aged 0 to 15 years, €2,500 for a dependent child aged 16 to 29 years, and €5,000 for a dependent parent - of the main applicant or of the spouse - who is 55 years of age or older. Main applicants and dependents must have “entirely clean personal backgrounds and no criminal records”, Henley & Partners said. A person denied a visa to a country or territory with which Moldova has visa-free or visa-on-arrival travel arrangements and has not subsequently obtained a visa to that jurisdiction cannot apply for the programme.

“The MCBI program offers investors a foothold in Europe and access to one of the fastest growing commercial hubs in the region, while also giving Moldova the chance to attract much-needed foreign direct investment and a set of highly qualified and carefully vetted new citizens,” Dominic Volek, managing partner of Henley & Partners Singapore and head of Southeast Asia, said.

Moldova passports give access to countries including Russia, Turkey, and members of Europe’s Schengen Area, Henley & Partners said.

As with offshore centres, defenders of golden visas say they enable people targeted by rapacious governments to flee from harm’s way and invest their money where it can be more productively used.

Historically, businessmen and women as varied as those from Jewish communities in Europe, Chinese expats in Southeast Asia, Indians in Uganda and further back, French Protestants ("Hugenots"), have been persecuted and their wealth looted. The issue remains, however, whether such passports are very effective if they are only open to high net worth people. 

At a conference in January this year in Interlaken, Switzerland and attended by this news service, an English barrister, James Corbett, argued that if there is a need to enable wealthy people to flee persecution, asylum processes rather than golden visas make more sense. Corbett said such visas are more akin to luxury goods or a "fashion accessory". (See report on his comments and the rest of that conference here.



Register for WealthBriefing today

Gain access to regular and exclusive research on the global wealth management sector along with the opportunity to attend industry events such as exclusive invites to Breakfast Briefings and Summits in the major wealth management centres and industry leading awards programmes