By Uglobal Staff
Residence- and citizenship-by-investment programs have become a growing trend that wealthy investors can use to benefit from visa-free travel, quality of life and safety and security. Some countries in Eastern Europe have made their way into the world of investment immigration programs, with a few notable destinations – including Bulgaria, Romania and Latvia.
“Eastern Europe is an exciting region of CBI activity,” said James McKay, a research analyst and consultant running McKay Research in London.
Bence Zákonyi, who runs Tucanoprod.com, which advises on citizenship and residency by investment programs, agreed.
“In East Europe, the goal and aim of all programs are for the applicants to somehow obtain citizenship for visa-exempt travels in the EU,” he said.
Many programs give investors freedom of travel throughout the Schengen area, a group of 26 European countries that removed passport and immigration controls at their borders. In Eastern Europe these include the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. EU member states Bulgaria and Romania are outside the Schengen zone.
“There is only a few real residence-by-investment programs in the EE region,” said Zákonyi, who noted the Hungary residency bond program as being a previously popular one, since abolished in March 2017.
“The biggest problem with the schemes of the region is the forever changing legislation of immigration,” said Zákonyi.
In the Henley & Partners Global Residence and Citizenship Programs 2016 report, the only Eastern European country that made the list of relevant residence-by-investment programs was Bulgaria. No Eastern European countries made their list of the top eight citizenship-by-investment programs in the world.
According to the Quality of Nationality Index, produced annually by Henley & Partners, Bulgaria and Romania have seen the value of their nationalities rise while the value of Ukrainian nationality has decreased.
Bulgaria can be an attractive option as it is seen as a gateway into the European economy, though it has no free movement in Schengen. The country shares borders with Greece, the Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Turkey.
“For investors who are interested in obtaining EU citizenship quickly and easily, the best and only option among the Eastern European countries programs is the Bulgarian program,” said Alina Tryfonidou, Associate Professor in EU Law and Director of Taught Postgraduate Studies, Foxhill House, School of Law, University of Reading in the UK.
Tryfonidou said Bulgaria offers an investor program for residence, which does not require effective residence and that includes a fast-track citizenship option. She says the Bulgarian program requires investors to invest around 512,000 euros in a fully-guaranteed government bond for five years. The investment will be returned to the investor after the five-year term with interest. The investor will be granted permanent residence as soon as the investment is made. After a year has passed from receiving the permanent residence, they can invest an additional 512,000 euros and apply for Bulgarian citizenship, automatically making them an EU citizen.
Romania is considered the cheapest option to gain residency in Europe through investment. Applicants can obtain the Romanian residence permit if they form a company with a minimum of 100,000 euros in capital and they also must create at least ten new jobs. Tryfonidou said investors can obtain citizenship after four years of residence, but says it takes longer than the Bulgarian option and “is merely a facilitated citizenship scheme rather than an outright citizenship for sale scheme.”
Latvia, which is located in north-eastern Europe, was on the list of relevant residence-by-investment programs by Henley & Partners Global Residence and Citizenship Programs 2016 report. To get a Latvian temporary residence permit, investors must purchase real estate worth 250,000 euros and pay a 5 percent government fee. Latvian residence permit allows free movement in 26 Schengen states.
“For investors who are interested merely in gaining visa-free access to the EU's Schengen area, the best option would be one of the investor residence schemes offered by the Eastern European countries which are part of the Schengen area,” said Tryfonidou.
Tryfonidou said Eastern European EU Member States like Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Poland all have their own investor residence schemes with different price tags on the residence permit they offer. But, she notes, all require residence within the country and in order to obtain citizenship, the ordinary naturalization procedure must be followed, such as knowledge of the language.
McKay says there are several countries with programs that are in varying stages of development. This includes Montenegro, which is planning to launch a special investor program, and Moldova which is moving to establishing a CBI program as well.
“Having EU membership will undoubtedly be a strong pull for many investors, and both Montenegro and Moldova will stand to benefit immensely if and when they become Union member states,” said McKay. “In terms of the specific regional benefits, Eastern Europe is an increasingly attractive business hub with a low-cost, skilled labor force, proximity to major European markets, and a comparatively low cost of living.”
McKay says a defining trend in Eastern Europe is the pace of growth of the industry, such as the concerted effort by governments and legal consultancies to improve the due diligence that goes into processing applications for various programs in order to ensure that the investment process is safe, secure and transparent.
“The improved standing of the industry as a result of these achievements has gone some way to generating more interest from HNWIs and investors,” said McKay.
McKay also said that rising economic uncertainty and geopolitical stress in the region is another important trend affecting the industry directly.
“The more these factors come to bear on local populations, the more they fuel interest for second citizenship,” said McKay.