By Salman Siddiqui
Montenegro made a huge buzz this summer when it made the move to officially recognize same-sex relationships, which in turn meant that its citizenship by investment program opened up to wealthy same-sex couples from abroad, making the country the only one in the Balkan region to do so.
Many countries, including in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Middle East barely offer any options to same-sex partners who wish to apply jointly as registered couples via investment routes for residencies, citizenships or passports. And it gets even more complicated for such couples if they are unmarried or have adopted children since immigration rules for each country differ.
BALKANS BEGINS TO OPEN UP
Montenegro’s milestone comes at a time when the country is in the midst of its EU accession process. Jovana Babic, Program Manager at Arton Capital, termed Montenegro’s move towards legalizing same-sex marriage as historic.
“From now on, it will be possible for same-sex investors to move and apply for Montenegro CBIP [Citizenship by Investment Program].”
However, this would only be for those couples who are married while it remains unclear what happens to those who have adopted children.
“In order to apply for CBIP they will have to be legally married. Even though the new law still does not allow local residents to adopt, it’s still unknown if children who are adopted in their main courtiers will be accepted in application,” Babic said.
Other Balkan states such as Serbia, which too hopes to join the EU bloc by 2025 like Montenegro, have so far not offered citizenship routes to foreign same-sex couples.
NORTH AMERICA OPTION LIMITED TO CANADA, US
While countries like Canada offer some of the best options to same-sex applicants, Panama continues to deny such couples the right to apply jointly, though it offers them a way to apply as individual candidates, which in turn would cost more.
Marcos Kraemer, founder of the Kraemer & Kraemer firm in Panama City, explained the process since same-sex marriages are not recognized in Panama.
“Usually, same-sex couples will file two separate residency applications,” he said. “The children can be added to the main applicant.”
Emilio Cornejo Vernaza, a founding partner at Panama Global Solutions, said while such couples cannot apply for a single residency application, there is a path towards permanent residency.
“Both spouses may apply separately, including for adopted children under one of the applications. This would allow all family members to obtain a permanent residency status.”
In Canada, same-sex foreign applicants do not need to be married to apply for RCBI.
“Canada recognizes same-sex marriages as well as unmarried de facto spouses,” said Canadian immigration lawyer Julien Tétrault, who is the President of JTH Lawyers Inc. “And if local laws prevent people from living together, there are even exceptions so that they can be reunited in Canada.”
The United States has since 2013 given immigration benefits to married same-same couples so that is also another good option for same-sex foreign investors.
CARRIBEAN ROUTE NOT IDEAL FOR SAME-SEX COUPLES
Caribbean countries do not recognize same-sex marriages, but they do offer foreign applicants in such relationships to apply for residency and citizenship via investment as individuals instead of as couples.
“Unfortunately and regrettably, Grenada’s legislation, like most of the countries in the Caribbean, does not recognize same-sex marriage, so there is no avenue to pursue that type of application even if the partners are unmarried,” said Grenada CBI Agent Richard Hallam.
St. Kitts and Nevis CBI Agent Stacey Ann Aberdeen added: “The laws of St. Kitts and Nevis do not recognize same-sex marriages and as such all same-sex married couples are not allowed to apply for citizenship of St. Kitts and Nevis.”
Antigua & Barbuda CBI Agent Kaline Kennard said his country didn’t recognize same-sex couples, though there was a way for them to apply.
“A separate application would be required with a separate investment. Adopted children can be included in the same way biological children can be included as long as all the legal adoption paperwork is provided and acceptable to the government,” Kennard said.
Dominican CBI Agent S.K.M. Isidore said same-sex couples “would have to apply separately as single individuals in order to be eligible applicants as Dominica's laws do not recognize same-sex unions.”
AMONG SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS JAPAN OFFERS LIMITED ROUTE
Masahito Nakai, managing partner of Nakai Immigration Services LPC, based in Tokyo, said Japan offers residency option to only those foreign same-sex couples who have a valid work visa and are legally married.
“A same-sex partner of a work visa holder is allowed to stay when they can submit an official marriage certificate to the Japanese immigration authorities. In other words, there is a slim chance to obtain visa status without the marriage registration.”
In countries like Malaysia, there’s not much hope. Roselind Moey, who is a Malaysia My Second Home Agent, said “same gender marriage is not recognized in Malaysia.”
THE OPTIONS IN THE MIDDLE EAST ARE LIMITED
The Middle East too offers very limited, and in some cases no option at all, to same-sex foreign couples looking to immigrate via investment. In Turkey, however like most Caribbean countries, such couples can apply as individual applicants if they want to live there.
“Since same-sex marriage is prohibited in Turkey, unfortunately, such couples cannot acquire citizenship at the same time through a single investment. However, if two different investments are made, the two individuals in the relationship would be able to acquire Turkish citizenship individually,” said Burçin Barlas, founding partner of Barlas Law Firm in Turkey.
“However, since their marriage would not be considered as valid in any way, they would not be registered as a married couple in Turkey and would have to register as single individuals. In addition, the adopted child may have the right to acquire citizenship as the child of one of the family members.”
OPTIONS IN AUSTRALASIA REGION
James Hall, who is a registered migration agent for Australia and the managing director of ANZ Migration, said Australia allows same-sex couples to migrate via investment, including couples with adopted children and children through surrogacy arrangements.
“Most of the visas for Australia, including the business and investment visas under subclass 188, allow for secondary applicants to be included where they meet the definition of a member of the family unit of the primary applicant,” he said.
“A partner can be recognized, whether married or de facto; generally, where the couple are not married but have been in an established relationship for 12 months or more, both options recognize same-sex couples. Adopted children through a recognized adoption process (in addition to certain culturally recognized adoptions) can be included as part of the migration family unit as well,” Hall said.
Mark Welch, another Registered Migration Agent from Australia who founded the law firm Cargil Migration, added that same-sex applicants have to provide “evidence that the relationship is mutually exclusive, and is genuine and continuing. Evidence can include financial aspects, nature of the household, social aspects of the relationship and the nature of your commitment.”
EU STATES OFFER IMMIGRATION OPTIONS TO SAME-SEX COUPLES
Several European countries such as Portugal, Greece and Malta offer RCBI routes to same-sex couples without any restrictions. Just like for other heterosexual couples, they also require such couples to provide proof of their relationship with their partners.
Dutch Immigration lawyer Jeroen Maas said foreign couples in any kind of relationship, married or unmarried, with or without adopted children can qualify for residency by investment. But “the possibility to qualify for a residence permit on the basis of investment will be very limited as the Dutch government has already decided to discontinue the investment residency scheme in the second half of 2021.”
Portuguese immigration consultant Tiago Gali Macedo said when applying for the Golden Visa program in Portugal, all investors need is proof of the civil partnership and the children’s adoption in order to submit their application.
“From the many cases we’ve dealt with regarding same-sex relationships, we have never had any other decision but that of acceptance by the authorities, which proves Portugal welcomes and is supportive of same-sex relationships,” he said.
In Greece, according to Greek Immigration Consultant Mary Tsiganou, same-sex couples applying for the golden visa need to show a cohabitation agreement concluded in Greece.
“Regarding the cohabitation agreements, there is no restriction on same-sex partners who have a cohabitation agreement in Greece to become eligible for the Golden Visa program.”
Bulgarian Immigration Consultant Alexander Dobrinov said the Bulgarian immigration law does not explicitly specify anything about same-sex couples or adopted children.
“Such cases get decided within the framework of relevant national and EU legislation in accordance with the Bulgarian Constitution and the case law of the European Court of Justice,” he said.
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