Citizenship by Investment: Navigating the country choices for E-2 Visas
Information for investors seeking E-2 visas following the acquisition of treaty country citizenship by investment (“CBI”) is especially relevant in light of the changes in the EB-5 program post-November 20, 2019. This article will highlight country options available for those investors whose country (e.g. China, India, Vietnam, and others) does not have E-2 visa availability, looking to obtain citizenship in a country that has a bilateral investment treaty with the U.S. to apply for an E-2 visa. China and Vietnam have very long EB-5 regional center case backlogs. While there are at present over ten countries which offer citizenship by investment, only three have bilateral investment treaties with the U.S. enabling their citizens to apply for E-2 visas, namely Grenada, Turkey, and Montenegro, which will not be discussed herein because it is the least used since it only has a one-year renewable E-2 validation period.
This article is solely based on information available at this present time (11/1/2020).
There are numerous factors to take into account when advising clients. However, there are two important considerations to note. The first is that these citizenship programs are frequently changing or evolving. Secondly, the choice of country is ultimately a subjective one, and so different investors place greater importance on different factors.
These factors are in my rough order of priority: 1) length of E-2 visa; 2) U.S. consulate for E-2 visa application, 3) investment amount; 4) required presence in the country; 5) stability of the program; 6) passport processing time; 7) family members entitled to a passport; 8) the permanence of passport, and 9) visa-free travel.
- Reciprocity schedules govern the time period for which E-2 visas are issued. Grenada and Turkey citizens can obtain E-2 visas for up to five years. Although all E-2 visas are subject to extension indefinitely, as long as they still qualify, there is undeniably a major benefit to not having to apply for an extension every year as in Montenegro.
- It is not a requirement for E-2 Visa applicants to apply for the E-2 Visa at a U.S. consulate with jurisdiction over the country of their new passport. They may apply at a U.S. Consulate in any country of their citizenship or residence, or at any U.S. consulate that agrees to consider the application. It is, however, essential to note that it is extremely beneficial to submit your application to the U.S. consulate with jurisdiction over the treaty country. The Consulate in Barbados, which has jurisdiction over Grenada, is a small U.S. Consulate, and this means that they can usually process E-2 Visa applications faster and more efficiently. In Turkey, each E-2 visa application generally has a much longer processing time, which often comes with more restrictive adjudications.
- There’s generally a choice for investment amounts, either through a real estate investment or donation to the government. The Grenada program involves either a $150,000 donation to the Grenada government (this amount is higher if the applicant is not single) or $220,000 in a designated real estate project (other real estate projects require $350,000 in investments). Through the Turkish program, one could invest €250,000 in real estate properties, which are often created especially for the CBI program. The Turkish lira has, however, fluctuating valuations, another factor to take into consideration. Other options include investing $500,000 in a bank account that can be liquidated after three years or investing $500,000 in a Turkish investment fund or security account. Each program has different costs and legal fees, which will need to be added to the investment amounts when calculating your total investment.
- The Turkey program requires the investor be physically present in the country at least once to obtain citizenship. Grenada does not have the stipulation.
- Anther important category for any investor is the stability of the program. Grenada is, by far, the longest-running program. In 2018, Turkey revised his program and has only started issuing passports under their new program in the last 10+ months. Political, economic and social security issues should also be taken into account when evaluating the Turkey passport.
- Government processing times may vary and change. Turkey and Grenada generally have about four to six month processing times.
- Grenada has, by far, the most liberal policy for including family members as dependents entitled to passports based on a single investment. Spouses, children up to age 30, and parents, as well as siblings, can obtain Grenada passports based on a single investment. In Turkey, dependents include a spouse and children under the age of 18.
- Both countries offer permanent passports, though still subject to periodic renewals, and not subject to revocation by the government.
- A Grenada passport presently provides visa-free travel to over 140 countries, including E.U. Schengen, U.K., China, and Russia. Turkey offers visa-free travel to over 110 countries, but not E.U. Sengen, U.K., China, or Russia. These above numbers and countries could change.
Each investor is likely to place different emphasis on one or more of the above factors. However, this break down should still be of value to investors seeking to obtain a second passport and, subsequently, apply for an E-2 visa to the U.S. when it comes to deciding on the route that works best for them.