Citizenship As Big Business

On the one hand there are now more refugees and stateless persons than ever before. On the other, the selling and buying of citizenship is a $25 billion a year global industry. Citizenship is viewed as an investment, marketed as such by its brokers. Wealthy Chinese who don’t feel safe in China, for example, or people who want to be able to travel freely within Europe or start a business there. More than half of the world’s countries have a program of citizenship through investment. In the US it costs $900,000 invested in a business that would create at least 10 jobs. In the UK it costs at least $2.5 million to buy a citizenship. Other countries are cheaper, although sometimes the cost can be surprising. Bulgaria’s is $560,000 close to that of Spain at $550,000 and the Caribbean islands from $150,000 or even in some cases $100,000. One of the most popular is the citizenship from Vanuatu which is $150,000, a program which is only 4 years old. It raises a lot of money for the tiny country which gained independence in the 1980’s and which can identify with what it means not to have a passport. It can take as little as a month and many of the people who have Vanuatu citizenship, which enables people to travel throughout Europe, have not even visited the tiny country made up of some 80 small islands in the Pacific.

One could say this business is a step, however distorted towards the notion of one world and it may slowly be causing a redefinition of what citizenship is—a point the marketers make.  But regardless of how it is pitched, it is an option that benefits the rich and as such contributes to the inequalities of the world. It is also a business open to corruption. Couldn’t a drug lord buy a US citizenship, and at the very least use it to launder money?  And so the issue of the buying and selling of citizenship begs the question: Are the minuses overshadowing the pluses?