Keeping Options Open
Why obtaining residency in another country is important.
It is April 2019, and I am attending an immigration conference in Toronto. There are attorneys and wealth managers from all over the world; London, New York, UAE, Shang Hai, and me.
The purpose of the conference is to review the global trends in immigration, particularly Immigration by Investment. There was an interesting topic developed in that conference: “Immigration Portfolio”.
The Immigration Situation
Since I was in law school, almost 15 years ago, I have had the fortune to work with people (call them migrants, call them immigrants, call them expats; I have covered this topic in previous posts) from all over the world. I also have had the opportunity to get involved or manage immigration processes in over ten different countries. I must tell you, it is fascinating, and I have learned a lot, so let me share something with you.
There are endless reasons why people move: a new assignment on a current job, or to explore better job options in a new city or country; for better weather; or for a low cost of living; it could also be to reunite with family, to reinvent themselves; to escape war or famine; or to live a dream.
At a personal level, each one of us is also looking for the “greener grass”. We are always in the pursuit of happiness, looking for that opportunity to improve our situation. We want a better job for ourselves; better education for our children; better healthcare for our families; cleaner, safer and more affordable communities to live; whether it is a city or a town, we want a better place to live.
These and many other factors may motivate us to move elsewhere. Some people move, some people do not. We have been moving around since the dawn of our species. Countries have been founded by immigrants, by people moving from one place to another. Unfortunately, the movement of people has generated frictions over the millennia. The competition for resources brought us invasions, wars, colonialism and slavery. There has been good migration and bad migration. Perhaps our immigration practices and regulations will improve over time, and we may become more embracing of our migratory nature. Only time will tell.
At this point in our history, we have become more global and we travel more than ever before. According to the World Tourism Organization, in 2018 there were 1.4 billion travelers around the world. As people become more mobile, so does the interest to relocate elsewhere. We all want to move to that beautiful place we visited last summer.
According to the International Organization for Migration in 2019 there were 270 million migrants in the world. Regionally, Europe hosts the largest number of international migrants with 82 million, followed by North America with 59 Million and Northern Africa and Western Asia with 49 million.
The Greener Grass
Between 1979 and 2009 the urban population of China grew by about 440 million people, out of which an estimated 220 million people was the result of domestic migration within China.
In 2016 Canada, the total number of inter-provincial migrants reached 277,029 people. Over the past five decades, Alberta has had the highest net increase from inter-provincial migration of any province, primarily by people looking for jobs in the oil industry.
Traditionally, when people think of migration or immigration, they generally focus on the international migration of people. At the end of the day, people move either across international borders or domestic borders. In the cases of China, US and Canada, the point here is to illustrate the volume of people moving within those countries. While domestic migration does not represent the challenges of international migration, people move with the intention to have better economic opportunities. We all have to move.
“The Immigration Portfolio”
Immigration has been stigmatized as something that poor people do. Over the past decades, there has been a trend of higher income populations migrating to other countries. On the one hand, higher number of retirees from Europe or North America have been more inclined to move to a warmer weather, while entrepreneurs have looked for better business opportunities in economies with lower tax burdens. By 2016 the US Department of State estimated about nine million Americans were living abroad, while the number of UK Nationals reached about 5.5 million. History tells us that Europeans are perhaps the most mobile people in history. Between 1815 and 1932, about 65 million Europeans left the continent.
A growing number of nouveau riche from developing economies have looked for safer places to protect their families. Think for example of Eduardo Saverin, the co-founder of Facebook, whose wealthy family moved from Brazil to Miami to avoid rising crime and have access to a more secure environment. The rich and wealthy from the Middle East, Asia and South America have had access to migrate to developed economies through immigration programs that require investments of hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. For instance, 10 million euros will get you citizenship in Austria.
Looking back at the Immigration Conference in Toronto, the “immigration portfolio” refers to having immigration options. Call it residency, citizenship or any other category, the idea is to have another option, should it be necessary. Over the past two decades, a growing number of people around the world have been diversifying their “immigration portfolio”, so should you.
Hope for the Best.
Having residency in another country is important for your security. Do not place the fate of your family in one country. Granted, not very many people have 10 million euros under the mattress to obtain citizenship in case of an emergency, but there are hundreds of options out there. You can go from the Ford Pinto to the Maserati of immigration options.
There is something certain that we can learn from the current global COVID -19 crisis, and that is: there is nothing for certain.
It is early January 2020, people are excited about the opportunities the new year and the new decade may bring after one of the greatest economic expansions experienced globally in the previous decade. Fast-forward four months later, and we have both a global and economic crisis. Who would’ve thought?
As we have witnessed the spread of the virus worldwide, governments enacted travel restrictions to stop the spread. Some countries have managed the spread of the virus better than others. Some are better prepared than others. While some countries have not reached the peak with the number of infections, others are starting to see the passing wave. I am sure that in a few months we will be OK as a human race. I hope that we will learn the lessons that this situation can teach us.
I am an educated man, but I cannot anticipate the endless number of scenarios that the future will share with us. What I know, is that we have the option to take certain precautions to protect the interest and safety of our families, one of those precautions is to have residency in another country where you can weather the storm. During this crisis, many people around the world decided to either return to their home country or stay in the host country because they felt it was safer to do so.
I travel for work a lot between Costa Rica and Panama. My home base is in Costa Rica, but I happened to be in Panama visiting my wife. The Panamanian government enacted a full quarantine, so I decided to stay with my wife. In our particular case, we both have Costa Rican and US Citizenship, and Panamanian residency. Basically, we could choose to be in any country that we may consider safe.
We are still under quarantine, and during this time I have been able to witness on social media numerous comments by expats in both countries stating that they were very happy to be where they were during these times. With mounting cases in Europe and North America, it seemed that these two little countries provided a reasonable degree of comfort and security during this crisis. I am not intending to say that either Costa Rica or Panama are the panacea for all crisis but it has worked in their favor now.
Each country in the world deals with hardship differently. You must choose what works best for you. In 2010, there was a 7.0 earthquake in Haiti which claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people while in the same year an 8.8 earthquake in Chile resulted in just over 500 casualties. If you ask me, I rather live in Chile than in Haiti, not from an earthquake perspective only, but for dozens of other reasons: safety, economic opportunities, standard of living, and certainly because of the wine. I am not asking you to live a life from a perspective of catastrophe avoidance, that is not living. Rather, I am suggesting having some options on the table should you need it. Having a residency in another country is like insurance; you wish you had it when you needed it.
Most countries in the world offer numerous types of legal residency. Some countries are very flexible, while others are very restrictive. Some countries are very affordable and some very expensive. Immigration options around the world comes in all colors and flavors, and there is an option for you out there.
Immigration is not only for the very poor people who have been uprooted by a conflict, or for the jet set to spend summers in the French Riviera. Currently, migrating to another country is accessible to anyone. You just need to embrace your migratory nature and take a leap forward.