Rich Le­banese scope pass­port op­tions in wake of cri­sis

Firms spe­cial­iz­ing in fa­cil­i­tat­ing pur­chase of ci­ti­zen­ship re­ceive uptick in inquiries

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - By Vic­to­ria Yan

BEIRUT: Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri’s abrupt res­ig­na­tion and pro­longed stay in Riyadh have led some wealthy Le­banese na­tion­als to con­sider pur­chas­ing a se­cond ci­ti­zen­ship.

“We can trace an up­surge in in­ter­est to about ex­actly 48 hours af­ter the res­ig­na­tion,” Jeremy Sa­vory, founder and CEO of Sa­vory & Part­ners, told The Daily Star.

“From the time [Hariri] re­signed to the fol­low­ing busi­ness day, we had about 90-some­thing inquiries.”

Sa­vory & Part­ners is just one firm cater­ing to the niche crowd look­ing into “ci­ti­zen­ship plan­ning” along with ca­reer and fam­ily plan­ning.

Rather than ap­ply­ing for a se­cond ci­ti­zen­ship through con­ven­tional means – the pro­cess­ing and ap­proval of which of­ten takes years – clients of Sa­vory & Part­ners pay con­sid­er­able amounts of money to ex­pe­dite the process, ob­tain­ing ci­ti­zen­ship from a group of coun­tries with reg­u­la­tions that ef­fec­tively al­low for­eign­ers to buy pass­ports.

Such se­cu­rity, how­ever, comes at a steep price. The cheap­est pro­gram of­fered at the firm comes to about $130,000 per per­son, ex­clud­ing ex­tra­ne­ous fees.

Till Neu­mann, man­ag­ing part­ner at Cit­i­zen Lane, another firm fo­cused on ci­ti­zen­ship plan­ning, re­ported that two Le­banese clients had reached out to them over the past cou­ple weeks.

“In this year, we have had 10 inquiries from Le­banon. Two of them oc­curred in the last two weeks and seem se­ri­ous about fol­low­ing through,” Neu­mann told The Daily Star over the phone.

“They’ve men­tioned the gen­eral sit­u­a­tion. The fact that the prime min­is­ter is still in Saudi [Ara­bia] makes them ques­tion what’s go­ing on and they want to se­cure their ways to get out, just in case.”

Po­lit­i­cal crises can be gold mines for firms deal­ing in ci­ti­zen­ship plan­ning, as they ex­pe­ri­ence spikes of in­ter­est when po­ten­tial clients’ home coun­tries hit un­cer­tainty times.

“This al­ways hap­pens. Af­ter a cri­sis, there is al­ways the hu­man re­ac­tion of peo­ple [re­spond­ing] and re­con­sid­er­ing their op­tions,” Neu­mann said, later elab­o­rat­ing that such re­ac­tions were seen around the world, not just in the Mid­dle East.

“To give you an idea, af­ter the Trump elec­tion, we had a mas­sive in­crease in Amer­i­can cit­i­zens in­quir­ing … look­ing for res­i­dence, look­ing to re­lo­cate away from the U.S.,” he said, adding: “This is a very typ­i­cal sit­u­a­tion.”

Sa­vory, too, listed a se­ries of re­cent po­lit­i­cal up­heavals that had led to a spike in prospec­tive clients.

“You can def­i­nitely see a type of cor­re­la­tion of all those events to in­crease in de­mand. Even­tu­ally, though, it lev­els out un­til it re­duces to a steady stream,” he said, not­ing that the sud­den up­swing in Le­banese in­ter­est that be­gan nearly two weeks ago had since calmed.

Whether the 90 po­ten­tial Le­banese clients will evolve into se­ri­ous clients for Sa­vory is yet to be seen.

“It’s too soon to tell at this point be­cause the client ges­ta­tion pe­riod takes a while. It de­pends on each [and] whether they’ve been think­ing about this for a long time. I would think within a week we would have a bet­ter fig­ure of who is se­ri­ous, and start pro­cess­ing ap­pli­ca­tions,” Sa­vory said.

The re­cent uptick in inquiries is just a small bump in a larger trend of in­creased Le­banese in­ter­est in ap­ply­ing for se­cond ci­ti­zen­ship, ac­cord­ing to a re­view car­ried out by Sa­vory & Part­ners.

Com­pared to this quar­ter last year, the firm has re­port­edly ex­pe­ri­enced a 46.4 per­cent in­crease in Le­banese clients seek­ing a se­cond pass­port.

One rea­son, Sa­vory said, is St. Kitts and Ne­vis’ re­cent dras­tic cut in ci­ti­zen­ship fees. The Caribbean is­land, an ex­tremely pop­u­lar choice amongst Le­banese hunt­ing for another pass­port, re­quires ap­pli­cants to go through less than six months of pro­cess­ing to ob­tain ci­ti­zen­ship.

Af­ter be­ing hit by Hur­ri­cane Irma in Septem­ber, St. Kitts and Ne­vis sought to at­tract ad­di­tional funds and slashed their ci­ti­zen­ship fees in half. For some con­tem­plat­ing se­cond ci­ti­zen­ship, the dis­count was enough to erase any lin­ger­ing doubts. “That cut made it much more af­ford­able for many Le­banese who had been think­ing about it,” Sa­vory said.

Ac­cord­ing to Sa­vory, many clients choose to buy their ci­ti­zen­ship sim­ply be­cause they are will­ing and able to pur­chase the free­dom of mo­bil­ity, al­low­ing them to travel un­hin­dered by time-con­sum­ing visa ap­pli­ca­tions.

“A lot of clients are busi­ness own­ers, CEOs or CFOs of large multi­na­tion­als, who want to know [that] what hap­pens in Le­banon doesn’t stop them from con­duct­ing their busi­ness and that they can move with­out re­stric­tions.”

Cur­rently, Le­banon’s pass­port ranks 187 out of 199 on the Pass­port In­dex, which eval­u­ates the strength of th­ese doc­u­ments.

In other words, the Le­banese pass­port is the world’s 12th-worst in terms of ease of travel.

Only 12 coun­tries will al­low en­try to trav­el­ers us­ing the pass­port with­out a visa, while only 25 al­low a visa to be given on ar­rival.

The num­bers give an in­di­ca­tion of why – de­spite the high price of in­su­lat­ing one­self against travel has­sles and po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity – many Le­banese are will­ing to pay.

The Le­banese pass­port is the world’s 12th-worst in terms of ease of travel.

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