Arabian Business, Tue 13 Feb 2018 10:27 AM
Savory & Partners founder and CEO Jeremy Savory discusses citizenship-by-investment programs and how they safeguard people and their assets. We live in a very uncertain world, currently fraught with geopolitical tensions, social upheaval and economic ups and downs.
For these reasons – and more – people around the world, and especially in the Middle East, are increasingly looking for second citizenships to protect their assets and, more importantly, ensure a secure and prosperous future for themselves and their families.
This is where Savory & Partners founder and CEO Jeremy Savory comes in.
“There are certain countries in the world where it’s legal to obtain citizenship, provided you meet certain criteria, one of which is the financial contribution you need to make, [through] real estate, financial products, or a one-time investment, which is non-refundable,” Savory explains.
The motivations for seeking a second citizenship, Savory is quick to note, are as diverse and varied as Savory & Partners’ clients, ranging from a desire to avoid difficult and often painfully long visa application processes to a desire for the peace and stability that often eludes many countries.
Then there’s simply seeking to feel more at home in a country that isn’t yours by birth.
“We’ve had a lot of European, Western clients that want to be strategic with their tax planning and passing on inheritances. We also have Middle Eastern clients facing challenges.
"Right now there are a lot of countries in this region where people don’t feel like they can travel freely into the Schengen zone in Europe, or to the UK or the US”, he says.
For some, it’s even deeper than that. You can look at an attempted coup d’etat in some countries, or loss of faith in your country’s leadership and sometimes no leadership at all. In some countries, it’s all of the above.”
Other cases, however, are more unique. Savory recalls one memorable instance when he helped a Bedoon, one of the more than 100,000 officially “stateless” individuals that call the GCC home.
“This wasn’t about getting a second passport. It was actually this person’s first passport. Trying to prepare a file for someone that doesn’t have much to go on in terms of showing they exist is very tricky,” he says of the case.
In another example, a second passport is simply a way to keep families together – as when Savory had a client whose adopted children had their passports revoked due to paperwork complications in their country of origin, a unique case but one that was also successfully resolved.
Some clients may simply not feel any connection with their home country, or may never have a base to return to, having lived their entire life abroad.
And then some clients simply have accumulated enough assets that the only asset left to obtain is the European citizenship that ringfences all those assets in the same way as a trust or a life insurance policy would.
For some, having a second passport is nothing more than a sound financial decision. “We’ve had royal family members come to us, and say that whenever they want to buy a property, they submit their passport copy, it says “HRH” on it and the price goes up,” Savory notes. “The cost of getting the passport will save that price increase.”
From St Kitts and Nevis to Cyprus and Malta
Citizenship and residency programs around the world are vastly different, each with their own requirements, benefits, timeframes and obligations.
Permanent residency from countries such as Spain and Portugal, on the other hand, require investments of €500,000 ($623,000) and can take as long as ten years to process.
Perhaps understandably, the most in-demand citizenships are those for countries in the European Union.
“The benefits that come with it [EU citizenship] are innumerable. Having said that, it’s priced accordingly,” Savory says.
“In Malta, you’re looking at not less than €1m ($1,23m) worth of investments when it’s all put together of which typically 55 percent – 75 percent is non-recoverable whereas Cyprus is €2m ($2.45m) in real estate of your choice as long as the paperwork process is correct.
An individual’s chosen second citizenship, Savory remarks, is largely based on their particular needs. An ultra-high net worth individual, for example, is likely looking for more than ease of travel.
“They’re looking to disrupt their legacy if you will,” he says. “They want to go from one nationality, say Afghan, Iranian or Nigerian, and become a European citizen for generations to follow. The status change is unquantifiable, as they and their children can immediately benefit from world-class healthcare, education, unlimited business opportunities and no tax, due to Malta and Cyprus’ generous tax positioning.”
An important distinction – which Savory says he often finds himself explaining to potential clients – is between citizenship programs and residency programs.
A residency program, for example, will only lead to citizenship if one actually resides in the country and is able to demonstrate both a tangible physical presence in the country as well as a physical presence. In some cases, applicants need to pass language tests. These types of programs, Savory adds, can often take significant amounts of time to complete.
“You’re talking five, six, seven, eight, nine or ten years. A lot of things can happen in ten years. If you look at today, most of the challenges we face didn’t exist ten years ago,” he says.
“Public opinion can go from pro-immigration to anti-immigration. Leadership, mandates and [criteria can change. Residency is not a definitive way to citizenship. We are very clear with our clients when they ask that.”
A legacy of due diligence
While Savory & Partners today dedicates itself fully to helping people acquire new citizenships, the company’s history dates back over 220 years to 1797, when – under the name Savory and Moore – it began operating in a very different industry: pharmaceuticals.
Not long after the company was founded, it obtained Royal Warrants from King William IV and Queen Victoria, soon earning the right to title itself “Chemists to the Royal Family”, which continued well into the 20th century as the company’s products were sent as far afield as the Americas, Asia and Africa.
A particularly proud moment for the company occurred in 1953 when Savory and Moore was chosen to provide the “anointing oil” used in the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II as monarch of the UK.
While over time Savory & Partners traded in medicines and healthcare products for passports and residency applications, Savory says that the company’s original motto of “diligence and hard work” is equally applicable to the business it finds itself in today. “We are very diligent about who we take on, and we have to vet our clients. That involves hard work.”
The success the company has had in acquiring additional citizenships for clients, Savory says, is largely a reflection of the careful vetting process designed to weed out applicants unable to demonstrate they are “clean” – not involved in money laundering, fraud or other dubious activities – as well as that they have the financial means necessary to make the process successful.
“[People should be] transparent in the application, and there should be nothing to hide. That’s never truer than in today’s times when the topic of sovereignty is highly sensitive,” he says. “If they aren’t truthful with us, then I can tell them that it won’t go any further and they are only fooling themselves.”
Additionally, Savory says the company is very straightforward with potential clients about their chances of success – even if there aren’t any – which differentiates it from the many companies operating around the world that promise what they can’t deliver. “I think maybe sometimes clients come to our company because we can tell them ‘it’s not going to happen’, or that they need to do this and change that. There are a lot of companies that say ‘yes’ without actually knowing what the solution is, or saying ‘yes’ and knowing full well that ‘no’ is the answer. Clients need to know they are getting qualified [expertise] and are aware of the situation,” he says.
“We don’t take on all files because we are happy with the success rate we have and the high volume of files we have already. I don’t want to have a client that isn’t successful, especially if it’s something we could have avoided. We really invest our time and in-house due diligence policies to make sure the clients we take on get their citizenship. Contractually, if they don’t, we have to refund them the full amount of our fees.”
The right time
For those inclined to seek a second citizenship, Savory says “the timing is right. Affordability is there, although application checks are becoming more and more stringent. If you are rejected for a visa then you are automatically ineligible for half the country programmes.”
While this strong demand has led new countries – such as Montenegro, Armenia, Kazakhstan and others – to introduce or plan to introduce citizenship or residency by investment programs, it has also brought with it problems that make finding the right citizenship by investment agent essential.
“It’s getting tougher to obtain a second passport definitely, but I think that gives me comfort. The higher levels of governance then the longer such programs can continue to exist for those seeking second passports. I had to earn every government accreditation available, so I welcome increased industry scrutiny and regulation.”
Getting what you paid for
Savory helps to unpack the murkier world of the second-passport business
Although Jeremy Savory says it’s impossible to gauge how many unscrupulous or unethical companies exist in the industry, he believes it is a problem that is “getting worse and worse” as more people become interested in the possibilities that come with a second citizenship.
While Savory & Partners is authorised and vetted to operate by the governments it works with, there are many companies that aren’t, he says. “Unfortunately, we have a lot of competitors that aren’t accredited because they don’t meet the criteria,” he notes.
“In this business, there is limited industry data or qualified guidance and too much distrust and misinformation. There must be four or five ‘passport strength indices’, each one provided by a different company. How impartial is that data?”
Another problem, Savory finds, is that many clients shop around for the best deal – an approach that can be problematic when it comes to finding a second citizenship.
“Our clients are typically self-employed business owners. They want a good deal and thrive on opportunities to buy a house or a car for a good price. The problem is that, unlike cars and houses, passports don’t arrive for a few months. You don’t get to “try before you buy”. You are either successful or not. Since 2017 there has been a one strike rule. If you are rejected once then you are rejected everywhere. It’s not worth the risk.”