By Salman Siddiqui
There are still only a handful of countries that allow digital currencies for investment immigration purposes, leaving several global immigration firms at a disadvantage since they cannot tap into the now trillion-dollar cryptocurrency market.
There seems to be a dire need for sovereign states and international bodies to come up with a globally accepted legal framework that would allow cryptocurrencies to thrive and in turn allow investment immigration firms to offer tailored solutions to their clients.
While some countries like El Salvador have embraced cryptocurrency, offering permanent residency options on the basis of cryptocurrency, others such as Panama offer options like the use of capital gains from cryptocurrency for immigration purposes; however, there are quite a few like Portugal that do not offer the opportunity to use cryptocurrencies for investment immigration at all even though the digital funds is considered legal and laws are in place to regulate its activity.
In several countries such as Cyprus and Turkey, especially from the point of view of investment immigration, there is no regulatory framework on cryptocurrency, making the digital currency impossible to be used by the RCBI industry even though such countries remain popular for investment immigration among wealthy foreigners.
TOP COUNTRIES FOR CRYPTO INVESTMENT IMMIGRATION
Apart from El Salvador, which created a huge buzz in June when the South American country announced it was adopting Bitcoin as a legal tender and would also allow crypto investors to get permanent residencies, the top countries for investment immigration via cryptocurrency appear to be Luxembourg in Europe, Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean and Vanuatu in the South Pacific.
Vanuatu Citizenship-By-investment Agent Laszlo Kiss, who is the Managing Director at Discus Holdings Ltd., said his clients can pay the Vanuatu naturalization fees and costs in cryptocurrency.
“It's an interesting and challenging new task to support our clients' crypto payments through transparent and official governmental channels,” Kiss said.
However, the contribution amount under the Vanuatu CBI Program is limited; there is no need to invest or buy or deposit more cryptocurrency than the officially stated investment amount, he said, adding that the government legislated total price to be paid for a single applicant is $130,000; for a couple $150,000 and for a couple and their two children is $180,000.
“The role of cryptocurrencies does not depend on the investors' immigration industry or sector,” Kiss said. “If the sovereign governments accept the use of cryptocurrencies, then migration solution providers can and must adapt to the legislation.”
Luxembourg immigration consultant Maria Tkachenko, who is the founder and general manager of Ziffer Group, said not only there was no ban on cryptocurrencies in Luxembourg; an investor could use cryptocurrencies for investment immigration purposes.
“Luxembourg is the first country in the world that licensed a crypto exchange – Bitstamp. Today Luxembourg is home to two of the largest licensed crypto exchanges – Bitstamp and Bitflyer.
“Cryptocurrencies can play a role of an investment target or a capital formation tool for investment immigration purposes,” she said. “Crypto will help investment immigration by facilitating capital flows, helping capital formation, and creating a new class of investors looking for investment immigration solutions.”
PAY IN CRYPTO VIA AUTHORIZED CBI AGENTS
CBI agent Kaline Kennard, who is the Managing Partner at Citizens International, said if a crypto investor applies via a licensed agent or intermediary in Antigua & Barbuda, it may be possible to pay in crypto via the agent.
“We have been looking at it for some time and decided recently to accept payments in crypto from our international clients as there is quite a large demand,” Kennard said.
“To my knowledge, we are the first licensed agent and authorized representative company for Antigua & Barbuda to accept crypto payments for all our services including property purchases, and I am confident other licensed agents will follow suit.”
Kennard also said that while many shops and restaurants now openly accept Bitcoin Cash, also known as BTC, the government does not accept fees or donation in crypto directly at the moment.
“It’s my understanding that the government is looking to potentially accept BTC in the future,” she said.
Crypto is not as cloaked in secrecy as some have been led to believe, Kennard said.
“Our crypto asset provider’s compliance team uses Chainalysis to monitor crypto transactions and KYC for coin ownership as part of their responsibility under the FCA regime. Transactions to us are fully traceable, which is one of the benefits of blockchain technology.”
Blockchain technology is the future of currency, according to Kennard.
“As an international lifestyle services provider, I recognize its importance to our industry which includes many services often starting with citizenship by investment but also including property, legal, banking and many other services,” Kennard added.
USING CRYPTO GAINS FOR INVESTMENT IMMIGRATION
Panama investor visa representative Marcos Kraemer, who is the founder and a managing partner of Kraemer & Kraemer, said many crypto investors are obtaining residency by investment in Panama, although the country still has no regulatory normative for digital assets and currencies.
“Panama has not yet regulated cryptocurrencies, and there are no specific RBI programs supporting it, although many crypto investors are using their crypto gains to invest and capitalize in the country,” Kraemer said.
Sometimes there are ways around using crypto, said Cayman Islands immigration consultant Daniel Altneu, who is the Managing Associate at Bedell Cristin Cayman Partnership.
While Cayman Islands does not allow crypto for RCBI purposes, “generally, we advise clients it is better to convert crypto to fiat currency in the exchanges and then transfer that to Cayman (noting that they will need to show how they came about such funds by providing a history of the associated crypto transactions,” he said.
“Currently, it cannot be used in governmental transactions, such as to pay application or approval fees for Certificates of Permanent Residence or Residency Certificates.”
COUNTRIES WHERE CRYPTO IS LEGAL, BUT NOT FOR INVESTMENT IMMIGRATION
There are quite a few countries that don’t allow cryptocurrency for investment immigration even though the digital currency itself is not banned.
“Although cryptocurrencies are legal in the Netherlands, they cannot be used to get residency via investment,” said Dutch immigration lawyer Jeroen Maas, who is a partner at Delissen Martens Advocaat.
Italy Immigration Advisor Marco Mazzeschi, who is the founder of Mazzeschi S.R.L., said Italian law regulates all activities linked to the circulation of cryptocurrencies.
“Any activity related to the purchase and sale of cryptocurrencies is taxed in Italy, but using cryptocurrency as a form of payment for a product or service is exempt from the financial transaction tax,” he said.
However, it cannot be used to get a golden visa or an investor visa in Italy.
“Currently, there is no role played by cryptocurrency in the Italian Investor visa program, no one can get a visa through an investment like that,” said Alessia Ajelli, who is an attorney at LCA Studio Legale.
Canadian immigration consultant Julien Tétrault, who is the President of JTH Lawyers Inc., said that while cryptocurrency is not illegal or banned in Canada, it cannot be used to get permanent residency in Canada, because programs require that investments are all in Canadian dollars.
In fact, even if one used cryptocurrency to buy Canadian dollars for investment immigration purposes, it “would most likely trigger interrogations from Canadian Immigration authorities regarding the source of funds.”
Portugal has a similar situation.
“Unfortunately, currently, cryptocurrency cannot be used to invest in Portugal in the Golden Visa process,” said Portugal Immigration Consultant Inês Azevedo, who is the founder of the Azevedo Lega firm. This despite the fact that cryptocurrencies have a very favorable tax regime in Portugal and tax residents don’t even have to pay capital gain taxes on crypto holdings.
DIFFICULTY IN TRACKING DIGITAL CURRENCIES
According to migration agent James Hall, who is the principal agent and managing director of ANZ Migration, “cryptocurrency is legal in Australia and there are various laws introduced in an attempt to regulate.” However, Mark Welch, who is the founder of Australian law firm Cargil Migration, said that based on his recent conversations with the Australian Department of Home Affairs (DHA) officials, he can confirm that digital currencies are excluded as a source of funds or assets, and therefore, could not be used for investment immigration.
“The DHA is unable to track digital currencies and, therefore, verify that the funds are lawful. Any funds which cannot be confirmed as lawful, can’t be considered in the Business Innovation and Investment visas,” Welch said.
This situation is similar in New Zealand.
“The New Zealand Financial Markets Authority considers that cryptocurrencies are high risk and volatile, can rise and fall very quickly, and would not be in a position to verify their lawfulness,” said immigration attorney Venkateswaran Krishnan. “Therefore, cryptocurrency is not considered an eligible investment by Immigration New Zealand for investment migration purposes and also crypto currency is not allowed to be used as a source of funds or personal assets.”
OTHER COUNTRIES LAGGING BEHIND IN THE CRYPTO RACE
Eirini Christodoulou, who is a senior associate lawyer at CA Advocates, Pourgoura & Aspri LLC, said there is no legal framework regulating blockchain and cryptocurrency in Cyprus.
“Cryptocurrency and virtual currency cannot be used for the obtaining of the golden visa or investors’ visa in Cyprus as it lacks legal status as a currency and also it lacks guarantee for legal obligation to reimburse at face value financial transactions,” Christodoulou said.
Paris Hadjipanayis, who is a Partner at Parparinos & Hadjipanayis LLC, agreed.
“While there is no specific legal framework currently in Cyprus for cryptos, it is not forbidden or banned,” Hadjipanayis said. “It may not be used to obtain citizenship status or tax residence directly as all payments must be in fiat currencies…However, companies can freely use cryptos to form a contract with an employee provided there is full acceptance on such volatile payments, however all contributions to the Social Insurances will be made in fiat currency on the given salary stated in an employee’s contract.”
According to Orhan Yavuz Mavioğlu, managing partner of Mavioglu & Alkan Law Office, crypto currency currently has no role in investment immigration in Turkey and one can’t use it for golden visas in Turkey.
“However, cryptocurrency is not banned or regulated for the moment. There is no official ban. There are some press releases by Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency noting that these are speculative and risky investments,” Mavioğlu said.
“Crypto currencies require regulatory framework (worldwide) and some level of dependability and price stability before they can actually be used for fund allocations.”
CRYPTO CHECKS FOR THE SAKE OF GLOBAL RCBI INDUSTRY
CBI agent Richard Hallam from Grenada, which is yet to embrace crypto in the CBI program, said while he personally believed that crypto would become a mainstream currency but was concerned “that because there can be no thorough source of funds it will open up opportunities for people to fund CBI applications through gains from illegal activities unless the necessary balance and checks are in place.”
Altneu said he sees the possibility of cryptocurrencies being beneficial to the industry, provided there were “rigid and industry standard source of funds protocols” in place.
Should the global investment immigration community embrace the crypto currency trend?
“Until now, their use has been stigmatized and has raised concerns amongst governments and regulatory authorities because transactions are immune to monitoring and, therefore, vulnerable to illegal activities and volatile trading prices,” Mazzeschi said.
“But there are technological features that, if added, can overcome these issues and make its legitimization possible in the RCBI market, which can be subject to money laundering activities.”
He gave the example of China, which is already experimenting with its sovereign digital currency, the so-called Digital Currency Electronic Payment. He also mentioned that the U.S. Department of the Treasury had announced a proposed regulation that would require money service businesses, which includes, for example, cryptocurrency exchanges, to collect identity data about people who carry out transactions with their customers using self-hosted cryptocurrency wallets or foreign exchanges.
“These developments should overcome the authorities’ concerns, should assure the traceability of all transactions and allow an increase in the use of cryptocurrencies,” Mazzeschi said.
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