Digital Future Citizens: A Forecast for Investment Migrants

Uglobal Immigration Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 2

Article By Ezzedeen Soleiman

In a world of increasingly rapid technological, social, and environmental change, the subject of immigration, passports and citizenship finds itself in something of a time warp. We live in an era in which many people’s understanding of citizenship is antiquated at best and downright draconian at worst. The notion of haplessly belonging to the nation of one’s birth, regardless of the quality of citizenship offered by that nation is, in a nutshell, the structural anachronism that residence- and citizenship-by-investment has risen to contest.  

Just as the industry appears to be gaining mainstream legitimacy, all signs point to a future that will tear up the rule book and replace it with an understanding of mobility, citizenship, and global identity that is comprehensively different from anything we have known before.  

The good news? As the changes begin to take root, service providers, investors, and nations that offer investment migration may find themselves positioned well ahead of the pack. 

BLOCKCHAIN, DIGITAL IDENTITY AND DIGITAL GOVERNMENT  

The biggest technological changes on the horizon for all industries are happening in the digital arena. In the sphere of international travel and residence and citizenship rights, it is more than likely that these changes will lead to the creation of a fully systematized digital identity. The repercussions of this for investment migration are huge, but they will certainly also be felt far beyond the perimeters of the industry. Precisely how blockchain and radical digitalization will impact travellers is impossible to know, but it is certainly not too early to begin preparing oneself mentally, if not materially.  

AS IT RELATES TO THE INDIVIDUAL 

Traditionally, citizenship entails the bestowal of certain rights and duties on an individual at birth. This assignment of rights, enshrined in the material object of a passport, then determines what kind of access an individual has to the world for the rest of their life. With blockchain, however, the possibility of doing away with passports (and visas) altogether emerges. This is because passports, which only tell national authorities’ basic information such as where an individual comes from, cannot compete with the potentially limitless quota of information that can be stored on a digital ledger such as blockchain.  

As one’s national identity alone is an insufficient proxy for the character of an individual, the more important question for immigration officers to ask in the future will be “who are you?” as opposed to merely “where are you from?” With more detail available to authorities about each individual, there will be less impetus to impose blanket visa restrictions on all citizens from a given country. For citizens originating from countries with passports that inhibit their global mobility, blockchain ushers in the possibility for prioritizing the individual again. 

The negative consequences of blockchain will mainly be for those who are attempting to hide something from authorities. However, there are also well-known cases of countries being unwilling to admit certain individuals if they have recently visited geopolitical rival. Think, for instance, of trying to visit Israel having travelled in the Arab world, or vice versa. A dual citizen would probably be able to do this by traveling on two different passports, but with blockchain, their anonymity would be compromised.   

AS IT RELATES TO FUTURE GOVERNANCE 

Deploying blockchain to police citizenship is one thing, but the technology alone will not fundamentally alter the status quo of how most people rationalize the actual concept of citizenship. Blockchain might make it easier for somebody who is pre-qualified for travel to pass through passport control, but it will not help anyone who is brilliant and worthy but happens to be from Yemen (for example) to overcome deficiencies in the strength of their passport which, according to the latest Henley Passport Index, only has access to 33 destinations worldwide visa-free. Put differently, blockchain will certainly simplify all travel administration going forward, but it will not necessarily have an impact on who can travel where.  

Deploying blockchain at the individual level, however, could change the way that we fundamentally view what citizenship means. Imagine an incorruptible way to exchange a person’s complete personal data between states. This would render a person’s natural born citizenship irrelevant. Passports, as travel documentsare incredibly outdated. They tell us very little about an individual — essentially only where they were born, where they have come from, and where they are going toIn an era where global travel is the norm, blockchain potentially offers a much more cutting-edge way of storing personal information. Moreover, it is virtually immune from traditional problems such as fraud or forgery.  

In the current situation, national immigration services are obliged to trust the word of certain jurisdictions but not others, based purely on the question of nationality. For instance, the United States government trusts somebody bearing a Maltese passport to enter the country without a visa but not somebody from Yemen. It hardly matters whether the government in Yemen recommends that so-and-so person is a great individual who is very rich with great degrees and wonderful prospects in life and so forth. Without a pre-qualifying visa waiver in place between the two countries in question, it will be very challenging for this individual to gain US access. With blockchain, however, where an individual comes from is no longer of primary importance. Nobody would have to trust the Yemen government to recommend anybody for visa clearance: their blockchain record would do that (or not) for them, and the need for a passport or visas would become obsolete.  

A small caveat to mention, however, is that there is a limit to how much information most people feel comfortable allowing the government to have about them. Yes, blockchain might make it easier for law-abiding citizens to traverse the globe, but this will come at the price of governments maintaining and transferring considerable information about all of us between themselves, and not everybody will feel okay with that.  

AS IT RELATES TO INVESTMENT MIGRATION 

If, potentially, the development of blockchain technology could spell the end of passports, it should be noted that this probably won’t happen for a long time. Nonetheless, when it does happen, all travel services and migrant-based systems will need to adapt and re-configure in order to remain useful and relevant. This applies to the investment migration industry as well 

The future holds unimaginable possibilities that are barely conceivable from today’s vantage point. From the perspective of investment migration, we might be looking towards a time when all transactions are made via cryptocurrency, due diligence and CRS checks can take place reliably and almost instantaneously, processing times are cut to zero, and the entire landscape of citizenship looks radically different from how it appears today.  

It is not only on the technology front that change is coming. The investment migration industry will also experience change coming from at least four other directions in the years ahead: 

  • Continued globalization and population growth 

  • Ideological changes to the notion of citizenship. Specifically, the assumption that citizenship of a single jurisdiction is the norm. The changing state of the world will force people to reconsider what it means to belong to a state. The concept of global citizenship will likely become mainstream. 

  • Changes in legislation. Either governments are going to become more isolationist or more open. 

  • Environmental changes. It is a reality that still not everybody accepts, but the scientific data strongly point to a fast-approaching future in which coastal areas including the key financial and business centers of the world (New York, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore) will be under water. The desirable destinations for travel and residence of today threaten to be gone tomorrow. This is clearly going to affect which passports are powerful and where the currents of migration will flow in the future. 

PREPARING TO STEP INTO THE UNKNOWN 

With the digital tech revolution set to impact our lives in all sorts of ways, the view from investment migration is that change is coming. For insiders knowing what to expect, the challenge will surely be to embrace change and lead the charge.  

Of course, there are highly legitimate individual concerns about using blockchain for immigration purposes, but the sooner we begin to engage with these issues of the future, the better we will be positioned to respond when the time comes 

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About the Author
Ezzedeen  Soleiman
Ezzedeen Soleiman

Ezzedeen Soleiman is the private client advisor of Henley & Partners Canada. Originally from Montreal, Quebec, Soleiman is responsible for the firm's operations across California and Latin America including the Caribbean and the Cayman Islands. He is a private client specialist in residence- and citizenship-by-investment planning and provides advice to high-net-worth individuals, their families, and their advisors, targeting countries that are deemed most attractive to wealthy clients in terms of mobility, security, privacy, personal tax and estate planning, and lifestyle.