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Once a citizen, always a citizen – or is it? The Malaysian diaspora is a well-lamented problem. Talent Corporation Malaysia Berhad (TalentCorp) tried to curb some of this brain drain by introducing the Returning Expert Programme (REP) to attract Malaysians to return home and the Residence Pass-Talent (RP-T) to retain skilled expatriates in Malaysia. These programmes assess the individual based on skill (and in the expatriate’s case, minimum gross taxable income), providing applicants with a way to gain citizenship based on their abilities. In other countries, however, citizenship can be gained simply by paying for it. Yes, it’s true!

What it Means to ‘Buy’ Citizenship

Buying citizenship isn’t as simple as stepping into a store and buying a passport. The ability to purchase citizenship is actually a method of citizenship by investment, which means that you gain citizenship in that country by investing a certain amount of money into the country, be it by government bonds, real estate, or a hefty fee on top of your investments. As citizenship – especially for countries in the European Union – gives you a much freer pass that you would have with a single citizenship and passport, don’t expect it to come cheap!

Is It Available for All Countries?

Don’t start packing your bags just yet – before you do so, you’ll need to check whether your destination country is willing to absorb you based on your economic prowess alone.

Take Malaysia, for example. In addition to disallowing dual citizenship – which means you’re either a Malaysian or you aren’t – non-Malaysians can only apply for citizenship either by naturalisation or by registration. Naturalisation would require you to be over 21 years old, reside in Malaysia for at least 10 years in the 12 years before you applied for citizenship, and possess passable knowledge of the Malay language. Citizenship by registration applies to those who are Malaysian citizens by law who have yet to register (people whose mother and/or father were Malaysian when the individual was born). You’ll have to give up your original citizenship (if any) once you accept Malaysian citizenship and passport, no sharing allowed!

On the other hand, you have countries like the United States and the United Kingdom that allow you dual citizenship, and then you get countries like Cyprus and Malta that actually allow you to buy their citizenship, through variations of a program known as citizenship by investment, also known as the immigrant investor program.

Below is a list by IMF of countries that allow citizenship by investment:

Image via IMF

As you can see, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitt’s and Nevis offer the fastest route to citizenship by investment, requiring no residency periods (the amount of time during which you have to be in that country within a stipulated period) and no citizenship qualifying period. Dominica is also the cheapest citizenship you can buy, valued at USD100,000, or around RM421,000 as of November 2016.

Countries where you can buy citizenship outright tend to be European or Caribbean, reaping the benefits of being part of the European Union.

Citizenship vs Residency

More commonly found is the residency program, both temporary and permanent. A wider range of countries offer residency permits, from Latvia and Ireland to highly-developed (and desirable) countries such as Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The key differences between citizenship and residency are as follows:

Citizenship is for Life

Unlike residencies, which may have to renewed every few years, citizenship is for life. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, further decries residencies by terming them people with ‘indefinite leave to remain’, which carries the connotations of the risk of revocation at any time.

Citizenship Can be Inherited

You won’t need to worry about reapplying for citizenship, or about applying for it for your children, even if they are born outside of your new country, so long as they can prove close filial relation to you.

Citizenship Disregards Net Worth

Not everyone is born with a silver spoon in their mouth, so it’s a very good thing that citizenship isn’t based on net worth! We wouldn’t have any poverty issues if that were the case. The same cannot be said for those who have residency status, who may need to maintain a certain value of investments throughout their stay.

Why Buy Citizenship?

The purchase of citizenship, or residency where citizenship isn’t readily available, is quite beneficial to the purchaser, depending on your reasons for purchasing it. A passport from one of the European Union countries, for example, can give you visa-free travel and business opportunities across the EU, depending on the power of the passport of the issuing country. Someone who has gained citizenship or residency status may also be permitted to bring their whole family along under their umbrella, as is common practice for postgraduate students with spouses and families.

Conclusion

You may be born into many things, but with the ease of mobility nowadays, being born into citizenship is no longer something set in stone.

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