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From Shanghai to St Kitts – citizenship, especially in the west, is for sale

Chinese investors are seeking more investment opportunities overseas, but are they attracted to the prospect of a new passport rather than the yield?

You wouldn’t be surprised if I told you the Chinese are taking over the world. The Chinese economic model has created hundreds of thousands of millionaires. Now the newly rich are taking their hard-earned cash and investing overseas.

According to the most recent China Private Wealth Report, published by China Merchant Bank and Bain & Company, an increasing number of Chinese investors are interested in putting their money to work abroad. One in three HNWI of those surveyed said they had overseas investments – double the amount of investors that had similar investment patterns when the survey was last compiled two years ago. And 60% of those asked were interested in increasing their overseas assets.

Investing overseas offers diversification and safety, but it can also offer citizenship.

If a Chinese investor has enough money and time, they can buy permanent status in many desirable countries. And it seems to be a win-win situation with the US, UK and elsewhere accessing important funds to push growth forward.

However, could there be a bidding war between countries vying for Chinese money? Smaller, less-suspecting countries are now offering incentives for international investors to set up shop in their countries – often at lower prices and with fewer conditions. Perhaps we will soon see a large Chinese settlement in St Kitts.

UK: Introduced in 2008, “investor visas” allow high net worth foreign individuals, with at least £1 million to invest, to remain in the UK on a long-term basis. From June 2011 to June 2012, Russian investors formed the biggest group representing 24% of all successful applicants. Chinese investors took up 23% of issued visas, and the USA took 5%. 419 visas of this kind were given out in this time period.  
US: The investor visa programme known as EB-5. People who invest at least $500,000 and create at least 10 jobs can get a temporary visa and apply for permanent citizenship. 80% of the 7,641 immigrants who got visas under the programme in 2012 were from China.  
Canada: To be eligible for the Canada Investor Visa, candidates must be able to demonstrate a minimum net worth of CDN$1.6 million. Following this, they must then invest CDN$800,000 with the Canadian Government for five years or make a one-off, non-refundable payment of approximately CDN$120,000.  
Australia: “Significant investor” visa to rich foreigners who agree to invest at least $5 million in the Australian economy. Investors get to settle in Australia for four years, with the potential for a permanent visa later. Deloitte estimates Australia could issue as many as 700 visas a year under the programme. The subclass of permanent visa to go along with the programme is numbered “888” – a number Chinese associate with wealth.  
Hungary: Non-EU citizens who buy five-year government bonds worth €250,000 ($324,000) would be given citizenship and access to 27 nations of the European Union.  
St Kitts and Nevis: Immigrants can obtain citizenship through a $250,000 donation to the government’s Sugar Industry Diversification Fund or a real-estate purchase of at least $450,000. With the passport they will also get visa-free access to most of Europe and other former British colonies.  
Cyprus: For foreign investors to get a three-year visa, which will also allow access to the entire European Union, Cyprus requires a real estate purchase of at least €300,000 (US$391,320). The popularity of this visa has been waning.  
Portugal: In a similar vein to the Cyprus deal, residency visas are offered to real estate investors that can be converted to citizenship in six years for €500,000.  
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