Citizenship for special merits – “investment citizenship” on steroids
During the past couple of years, investment citizenship has been harshly criticized by the world powers. The United States and the European Union were among the fiercest critics of all Golden Passport and Golden Visa programs. We can now certainly say that the last days of these programs are numbered. At least in their current form and shape. For many affluent individuals however, a new opportunity to obtain fast-track second passport is emerging on the horizon. And this new opportunity is swiftly replacing the good old investment citizenship programs. We are talking about the somewhat forgotten, but long existing – citizenship for special merits. And as it appears, the special merits citizenship may prove to be much more beneficial to the fast-track citizenship seekers. Especially for those, who can really “add value” to the host country, not merely buying government bonds.
The end of the old fashioned investment citizenship
In the good old days, obtaining second citizenship and passport from an “island” country was the visa-free travel solution. Many individuals from countries with weak passports opted to make an investment abroad in return for a second citizenship. In many cases the investment was nothing else, but a donation. Donation to the government and hefty fees for the citizenship agents. In some cases they could almost instantly obtain second passport with far better visa-free country score. Prime examples were the passports of many Caribbean countries. These were relatively easy to get for an investment and were providing visa-free access to the most desired destinations (i.e. the European Union).
Passports for sale
With the expansion of the citizenship by investment marketplace, many started considering the investment programs as purely “passport for sale” schemes. Though definitely not entirely correct, this stance was adopted by the politicians in the US and the EU. Ultimately this marked the end of the investment citizenship era.
Cancellation of the EU citizenship by investment programs
As result of the demonizing of the investment citizenship programs, a.k.a. “Golden Passports”, virtually all EU countries cancelled their fast-track citizenship programs. Some even started investigations on the way investment citizenship has been granted in the past. Prime examples of countries that basically crippled their Golden Passport programs are Bulgaria, Cyprus and Portugal. All they were once on the forefront of the EU investment citizenship marketplace.
Harsh warnings to the “island” countries
At the same time, the EU has also sent harsh warnings to third countries (ie the Caribbean countries, Vanuatu, etc.) who were still “selling Golden Passports”. The European authorities basically threatened that these countries’ visa-free privileges with the European Union will be cancelled, unless they put their investment citizenship programs to an end. And indeed, without visa-free access to the USA and the EU, the passports of these tiny islands would become virtually useless for the foreign investor.
Citizenship by investment will remain, but with limited use
It is almost certain that some countries will still continue to offer investment citizenship. However, the goal of anyone willing to obtain such fast-track citizenship will be solely to be able to reside in this particular country. The dream of getting powerful passport, such as the EU one, in order to get visa-free access to hundreds of countries worldwide or unrestricted residence rights in Europe, will slowly, but surely die.
The King is dead, long live the King!
As often happens, on the ashes of the old, the new is born. Citizenship for special merits exists in many countries and has been granted to many individuals throughout the years. Until now, in the past era of the “Golden Passports”, citizenship for merits was the underdog. At one time for example, to our knowledge, Bulgaria was granting more often special merits citizenship than investment passports. Nobody seemed to mention it though, as the investment citizenship program was widely advertised, with clearly defined conditions and financial parameters.
The times are different now and the hunt for powerful passport, in the realms of the slaughtered investment citizenship programs, has suddenly brought the special merits citizenship under the spotlight. And it appears that special merits citizenship is swiftly becoming the new version of the good old investment citizenship. And in fact, a much better one!
Special merits citizenship – the better alternative to the citizenship by investment
The real problem with the investment citizenship was that everybody was given a chance to get a “good” passport. The rules were straightforward and those with adequate finances, could make use of the investment programs. Unfortunately for the US and the EU however, many of those with money were not to the liking of the western powers. Many of the candidates for investment citizenship were originally from countries, that the west had problems with. And logically, the branding of all programs as “passport for sale” schemes was fiercely promoted.
New citizens are welcome
At the same time however, countries with powerful passports still need “qualifying” new citizens. Such citizens, who can effectively contribute, not necessarily financially, to the wellbeing of the host country. And these new citizens, rather than being asked to “invest in the country certain predefined amount”, are now “expected” to be of benefit to the country they want to get passport from. The terminology is obviously too broad to be interpreted exactly. But this is also the beauty of the citizenship by special merits programs, in particular the Bulgarian one, as an example for the purposes of this article.
Bulgarian special merits citizenship – no predefined financial conditions
The Bulgarian special merits citizenship doesn’t obviously require the candidate to make any investment or contribution. The condition for immediate naturalization is much nobler – the candidate’s naturalization is to be of benefit to the Republic of Bulgaria. Obviously, there may be different aspects of how can one fit into the requirements of the law. Many athletes do qualify and have successfully obtained instantly Bulgarian passports, as was the case with three football players recently. But as it seems, businessmen are more than welcome as well.
Special merits citizenship for businessmen and investors
Here is where the investment citizenship and the special merits option have much in common. While previously, one should invest certain amount of money into certain financial instruments, now the playing field is much wider. The person, aiming to obtain fast-track Bulgarian citizenship, has to show that if naturalized, his naturalization will be of benefit to the country. And this can be done through many different ways. Generally, a tie, a connection with the country should be established. This can be through social work, business and investment activities in the country, supporting scientific organizations, sport clubs, etc. It can be virtually everything. And the options are endless.
Careful planning is the key to success
Of course, careful planning and professional approach is required, as it is not everybody who does “something good” for Bulgaria, to become Bulgarian citizen for special merits. The activities of the applicant need be fully in line with the social and political values of the country, in areas, where Bulgaria needs assistance the most. Luckily, in many cases, this proves to be far easier and more fun to do than complying with the old citizenship by investment narrow requirements.
Sustainable citizenship, not a passport for sale scheme
Although citizenship for special merits is not intended primarily for businessmen, nobody is excluded. There is never a guarantee that the candidate will be approved, but this was also the case with the old citizenship by investment program. The important difference now is that citizenship for special merits cannot be branded as “passport for sale” scheme. And this will give much more sustainability to the special merit citizenship programs and a guarantee for longevity.
The successor of the Golden Passport program – Bulgarian citizenship for special merits
If the successor of the old Bulgarian citizenship by investment program must be named, this definitely is the program for citizenship for special merits. The new opportunity, actually well forgotten old one, will never be marketed as aggressively as the investment citizenship was. But those who discover it and those who poses the required qualifications or capabilities, will reap off the benefits of the better way to become citizen of a country with really strong passport. Citizenship by special merits is already becoming the golden standard for obtaining fast-track second citizenship.