By Moustafa Daly
In early 2022, the start of the Russia - Ukraine war quickly alarmed Western governments to potential security risks posed by the inflow of regime-affiliated Russian oligarchs to these countries. Among the first moves to limit such access was to seek restrictions on residency and citizenship by investment (RCBI) schemes across many countries.
Indeed, many countries in the European Union (EU) have since restricted Russians’ access to their golden visa programs, and banning Russians is at the core of recent EU and United States (U.S.) reform demands of Caribbean CBI programs. The United Kingdom (UK), a popular destination for wealthy Russians, scrapped its investor visa program (Tier 1 Investor Visa) in the tense weeks leading up to the war.
However, Russians seeking other residencies or citizenships elsewhere are not without options. In fact, many countries, including within the EU, still offer Russians with pathways to investor residencies that give them access to global markets and territories.
A recent report sheds light on the global destinations mostly sought by Russian high-net-worth individuals (HNWI) in their pursuit of property and residencies abroad.
Here are the top RCBI destinations for Russian HNWIs.
Since the onset of the Russian war in Ukraine, the UAE has adopted a neutral stance that, along with the country’s commercial and trade prowess, positioned it as the top destination for wealthy Russians throughout 2022.
The UAE’s golden visa program, launched in 2019, made it easy for foreigners to obtain residency after investing about $550,000 in local real estate – quickly proving to be a popular route for Russian HNWIs.
The inflow of Russians has caused property prices to boom to record levels throughout 2022, but recent evidence shows Russians’ interest in UAE property is waning in favor of other destinations. Media reports said that the devaluation of the Ruble throughout 2023 is also a factor contributing to lessening Russian interest in luxury UAE real estate, and by association also the golden visa.
Another Middle Eastern country that has managed to attract many wealthy Russians is Turkey, officially known as Türkiye. In 2017, it became one of the region’s first countries to launch a CBI program, proving to be popular particularly due to the fact that Turkish citizens qualify for the popular E-2 investor visa in the U.S.
The war also brought many benefits to Turkey’s CBI, top of which is real estate investments by wealthy Russians as they pursue obtaining a passport by investment. Between the breakout of war in March 2022 and August 2022, nearly 5,000 Russians got the Turkish citizenship by investing in the country.
The heightened demand of Russians and others for Turkish citizenship and real estate has led authorities to increase the investment threshold for real estate investment from $250,000 to $400,000, and further tighten the restrictions of the program.
This eastern European country has been an EU member since 2004. In 2013, it launched its golden visa program with investment threshold starting at 300,000 euros. In 2017, however, it scrapped the program after evidence of abuse emerged.
In November 2023, Hungary announced the relaunch of its golden visa in 2024. The government proposes to increase the investment threshold for real estate to start at 500,000, investors could also elect to invest only 250,000 in a real estate fund to get a 10-year residency.
As the revived program comes online, the country is positioned to continue being a top destination for Russians with a streamlined and affordable golden visa process. A Russian real estate firm recently said that most of its clients are interested in purchasing property and obtaining residency in one of two EU countries, Hungary, and the next country on this list.
Also launched in 2013, Cyprus’ Golden Passport program was one among very few in the EU that allowed direct access to EU citizenship by way of investment. The program has long been scrutinized by the bloc’s officials, and investigative media reports indicating abuse of the program surfaced and led to the suspension of the citizenship route.
Cyprus, however, still offers an investment residency option, which is popular for Russian HNWIs seeking EU mobility. Despite a recent tightening of restrictions on the program, Russians still consider Cyprus as a go-to RBI destination, and it is the most popular EU destination for Russian real estate and residency investors.
Similar to Turkey, Grenada, a Caribbean nation, is also an E-2 treaty country with the U.S., and runs a known citizenship by investment program that gives foreigners access to Grenada passports in exchange for investments in real estate or government projects.
With a shortcut to the U.S. and visa-free access to the EU, Grenada had been an attractive destination for wealthy Russians since the war started. It’s seen as affordable and offers greater value for money than other destinations. However, the U.S. and EU discussions with Caribbean CBI programs throughout 2023 have led Grenada to decide to cut Russians’ access to its CBI program starting in April 2023.
However, Russians remained the top nationality obtaining Grenada’s passport this year, ranking among the top five nationalities earning Grenada’s passport during 2023 as per government figures.
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