Lebanon News

Rich Lebanese scope passport options in wake of crisis

Beirut airport, Wednesday, May 20, 2015. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s abrupt resignation and prolonged stay in Riyadh have led some wealthy Lebanese nationals to consider purchasing a second citizenship. “We can trace an upsurge in interest to about exactly 48 hours after the resignation,” Jeremy Savory, founder and CEO of Savory & Partners, told The Daily Star.

“From the time [Hariri] resigned to the following business day, we had about 90-something inquiries.”

Savory & Partners is just one firm catering to the niche crowd looking into “citizenship planning” along with career and family planning.

Rather than applying for a second citizenship through conventional means – the processing and approval of which often takes years – clients of Savory & Partners pay considerable amounts of money to expedite the process, obtaining citizenship from a group of countries with regulations that effectively allow foreigners to buy passports.

Such security, however, comes at a steep price. The cheapest program offered at the firm comes to about $100,000* per person, excluding extraneous fees.

Till Neumann, managing partner at Citizen Lane, another firm focused on citizenship planning, reported that two Lebanese clients had reached out to them over the past couple weeks.

“In this year, we have had 10 inquiries from Lebanon. Two of them occurred in the last two weeks and seem serious about following through,” Neumann told The Daily Star over the phone.

“They’ve mentioned the general situation. The fact that the prime minister is still in Saudi [Arabia] makes them question what’s going on and they want to secure their ways to get out, just in case.”

Political crises can be gold mines for firms dealing in citizenship planning, as they experience spikes of interest when potential clients’ home countries hit uncertainty times.

“This always happens. After a crisis, there is always the human reaction of people [responding] and reconsidering their options,” Neumann said, later elaborating that such reactions were seen around the world, not just in the Middle East.

“To give you an idea, after the Trump election, we had a massive increase in American citizens inquiring ... looking for residence, looking to relocate away from the U.S.,” he said, adding: “This is a very typical situation.”

Savory, too, listed a series of recent political upheavals that had led to a spike in prospective clients.

“You can definitely see a type of correlation of all those events to increase in demand. Eventually, though, it levels out until it reduces to a steady stream,” he said, noting that the sudden upswing in Lebanese interest that began nearly two weeks ago had since calmed.

Whether the 90 potential Lebanese clients will evolve into serious clients for Savory is yet to be seen.

“It’s too soon to tell at this point because the client gestation period takes a while. It depends on each [and] whether they’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I would think within a week we would have a better figure of who is serious, and start processing applications,” Savory said.

The recent uptick in inquiries is just a small bump in a larger trend of increased Lebanese interest in applying for second citizenship, according to a review carried out by Savory & Partners.

Compared to this quarter last year, the firm has reportedly experienced a 46.4 percent increase in Lebanese clients seeking a second passport.

One reason, Savory said, is St. Kitts and Nevis’ recent drastic cut in citizenship fees. The Caribbean island, an extremely popular choice amongst Lebanese hunting for another passport, requires applicants to go through less than six months of processing to obtain citizenship.

After being hit by Hurricane Irma in September, St. Kitts and Nevis sought to attract additional funds and slashed their citizenship fees in half. For some contemplating second citizenship, the discount was enough to erase any lingering doubts. “That cut made it much more affordable for many Lebanese who had been thinking about it,” Savory said.

According to Savory, many clients choose to buy their citizenship simply because they are willing and able to purchase the freedom of mobility, allowing them to travel unhindered by time-consuming visa applications.

“A lot of clients are business owners, CEOs or CFOs of large multinationals, who want to know [that] what happens in Lebanon doesn’t stop them from conducting their business and that they can move without restrictions.”

Currently, Lebanon’s passport ranks 187 out of 199 on the Passport Index, which evaluates the strength of these documents.

In other words, the Lebanese passport is the world’s 13th-worst in terms of ease of travel.

Only 12 countries will allow entry to travelers using the passport without a visa, while only 25 allow a visa to be given on arrival.

The numbers give an indication of why – despite the high price of insulating oneself against travel hassles and political instability – many Lebanese are willing to pay.

 
This article was amended on Friday, November 17 2017

A version of this article appeared in The Daily Star on November 17. The article has been amended to show that the advertised cost from the government of Saint Kitts and Nevis to procure citizenship is $100,000. Firms however often charge their own service fees in addition to the baseline cost.  

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 17, 2017, on page 3.

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