By Glynda Alves, ET Bureau
Indians accounted for 9.4% of global applicants for golden passports in 2022, which offer citizenship through investment or property purchases. For Indian businesspeople, having a higher-ranking passport can facilitate ease of business and cross-border mobility. Certain countries, such as Saint Kitts and Nevis, provide visa-free access to a large number of countries, including the EU and UK.
In 2022, Indians accounted for 9.4% of the total global applicants for golden passports, according to data from Citizenship Invest. Golden passport refers to a facility offered by some countries whereby foreigners can get citizenship status by making a significant investment or by buying a house in that country. For Indians, and businesspeople in particular, having a passport that is higher up in the pecking order can help in ease of business.
“One of the biggest difficulties that Indians face when building international or businesses or careers is simply that of travel. An Indian passport will get a person visa-free access to only 60 countries. It’s the same as Tajikistan,” said Kristin Surak, associate professor of political sociology at the London School of Economics and author of The Golden Passport: Global Mobility for Millionaires. But becoming a citizen of, say, Saint Kitts and Nevis or some other Caribbean country, will give them visa-free access to 157 countries including the European Union and the United Kingdom, he said. “If you need to get on a plane and be somewhere for an important meeting or a deal, it simply makes that sort of cross-border mobility much, much easier,” Surak said.
Cover the globe
European countries, led by Germany, then Sweden, Spain, France, and Italy, hold the top ranking in terms of doing business. “Some passports which are popular are Portugal, for offering a pathway to citizenship and access to the EU, Grenada as it offers visa-free access to the US, Cyprus for fast-tracking the route to citizenship and access to EU, and Malta for offering a European Union passport with a visa-free access to a wide range of countries,” said Aakanksha Bhargava, CEO of PM Relocations.
For people with a specific interest in conducting business in China, passports of Dominica and Grenada become particularly appealing, offering instant visa-free entry to this pivotal market.
“These countries do not impose tax on worldwide income, these nations do not levy taxes on capital gains, gift, wealth, or inheritance, signifying a favourable fiscal environment for high net-worth individuals. Additionally, there are no taxes applicable to non-residents,” said Veronica Cotdemiey, CEO of Citizenship Invest.
A leading Mumbai-based corporate lawyer said Swiss and Portuguese passports are good choices for those looking to do business in the Middle East and Europe. Rohit Sharma, director and COO of Abhinav Immigration Services, said a Canadian passport opens the giant umbrella of the North American market, followed by Australia. Dubai is also leading the way, he added.
Diversification of interests
It’s not just fluidity in travel. Other benefits include diversification of business interests, global investment opportunities, and access to a larger business network.
With a golden passport, “you can diversify your business interests and expand your reach”, Sharma said. “It allows you to invest in, own or operate businesses in other countries. It mitigates risks associated with a single economy. You can also tap into a broader network of international contacts and opportunities, which can help you establish connections, find partners, and expand your business activities across borders,” he said.
The legal and regulatory environment also matters. “This can be advantageous for entrepreneurs and investors seeking consistency and transparency,” Sharma said. “It also acts as a safety net in case of economic instability in one’s home country and provides options to relocate and expand the business.”
Tax planning is a paramount incentive. “These programmes offer an avenue to explore tax planning opportunities wherein tax liabilities can be effectively reduced or even eliminated,” Cotdemiey said.
The extent of this advantage, she said, depends on a range of factors, including residency status, the country and the nature of income, whether sourced within or outside of India. “This can be especially beneficial for individuals with a significant amount of wealth as they offer avenues to optimise their financial planning strategies,” she said.
For example, Turkey has a popular golden passport programme. That is because its citizens have the benefit of several tax and tariff deals when importing goods to the European Union, Surak said.
“Those sorts of business benefits vary from country to country – one has to dig down into the specific countries and treaties and industries – but they can be a bonus too,” she added.
According to Deepa Sharma, director of Business and Trade Association (BTA), golden passports have helped industries in market exploration and penetration, with access to various business opportunities. “A golden passport will also help in attracting global investments,” she said.
Global Indian is part of a series of articles exploring questions about citizenships, business access and professional advantages in a world without borders.