This is the third in a trilogy of blogs discussing issues of importance for investors seeking E-2 visas following acquisition of treaty country citizenship by investment (“CBI”), especially topical in the wake of the changes in the EB-5 program post-November 20, 2019. The first blog compared E-2 with EB-5; the second blog discussed transitioning from E-2 to green card through EB-5.
This blog will focus on country options available for investors who wish to obtain citizenship in a country that has a bilateral investment treaty with the U.S. in order to apply for an E-2 visa.
Although there are over 10 countries that offer citizenship by investment, only 3 of those countries have bilateral investment treaties with the U.S. enabling their citizens to apply for E-2 visas. Those 3 are Grenada, Turkey, and Montenegro (a fourth country, Moldova, recently suspended its citizenship by investment program).
One recent study analyzed 26 different factors and concluded that Grenada was the best CBI country. Based on my experience with E-2 investors obtaining second country citizenships, I have chosen 9 factors of the highest importance to my clients. Using my analysis of the most relevant factors for E-2 visa applicants, I, too, have concluded that Grenada is often the best option. However, there are two caveats. One caveat is that, in my experience, these citizenship programs are frequently changing or evolving, so that some of the information referenced in this blog may change over time. The information in this blog includes the latest information to which I have access presently. The second caveat is that a choice of country is ultimately subjective, and different investors place greater importance on different factors.
The 9 factors I have chosen based on my experience with clients obtaining second passports in order to apply for an E-2 visa are (in rough order of priority): length of E-2 visa; US consulate for E-2 visa application; investment amount; required presence in the country; passport processing time; stability of the program; visa free travel; family members entitled to passport; and permanence of passport.
The period of time for which E-2 visas are issued is governed by reciprocity schedules. Grenada and Turkey citizens can obtain E-2 visas for 5 years. Citizens of Montenegro are limited to 1‑year E-2 visa issuance. Although all E-2 visas are subject to extension indefinitely, there is clearly a huge advantage to not having to apply for an extension every year.
There is no requirement that an E-2 visa applicant apply for the E-2 visa at a US consulate with jurisdiction over the country of their new passport. Rather, they could apply at a US consulate in any other country of their citizenship or residence, or at any US consulate that agrees to consider the application. However, there is a significant advantage to having the option of applying at the US consulate with jurisdiction over the treaty country.
The consulate in Barbados (which has jurisdiction over the neighboring country of Grenada) has the advantage of being a small US consulate which can usually process E-2 visa applications quickly and efficiently. The consulate has expressed a strong preference for Grenada citizen applicants who actually have had at least some physical presence in Grenada. On the contrary, E-2 visa applications in Turkey generally have a significantly longer processing time and often suffer more restrictive adjudications. There is far less experience with E-2 visa applications at the US consulate in Montenegro.
Investment amounts generally involve choices. The choice usually involves a real estate investment or a donation to the government. In the case of Turkey, there are additional options.
The Grenada program has a choice of a $150,000 donation to the Grenada government (higher amount if the applicant is not single) or $220,000 in a designated real estate project (other real estate projects require $350,000 investments). A higher investment amount is required for the Montenegro program. The real estate investment is $450,000. An alternative is a €100,000 donation to the government plus a €250,000 real estate investment.
The Turkish program has the option of a €250,000 investment in real estate properties that are often created especially for the citizenship program (caveat: the Turkish lira has suffered significant devaluation). The other options are investing $500,000 USD in a bank account that can be liquidated after 3 years. Or investing $500,000 USD in a Turkish investment fund or security account.
Each program has different costs, which must be added to the investment amounts in calculating the total investment.
Turkey and Montenegro do require that the investor be physically present in the country at least once in order to obtain citizenship. Grenada does not have such a requirement.
This is an elusive category since government processing times have been known to vary and to change over time. Although Grenada has boasted 3 to 4-month processing times, my experience is that those times have increased recently, with 4 to 6 months being more realistic. Although there are some Turkish passports that have been processed within 3 to 4 months, processing times are likely to increase as the volume increases and as security checks (presently lax) are enhanced. Processing time in Montenegro appears to be 3 to 4 months, although there is less of a statistical sample.
This is an important category. As mentioned earlier, Moldova is an example of a country that started a citizenship by investment program in 2018 and has already suspended it.
Grenada has, by far, the longest running program. Turkey revised its program in 2018 and has only started issuing passports under the new program over the last 8 or 9 months. The Montenegro program is slightly more than 1 year old.
Political, economic and security issues must also be taken into account when evaluating the Turkey passport.
Although these numbers are subject to change (either up or down), a Grenada passport presently provides visa free travel to over 140 countries, including EU Schengen, UK, China, and Russia. Montenegro offers visa free travel to over 120 countries, including EU Schengen and Russia, but not UK or China. Turkey offers visa free travel to over 110 countries, but not EU Schengen, UK, China, or Russia.
Grenada has, by far, the most liberal policy for including family members as dependents entitled to passports based on a single investment. Spouses, children up to age 30 and parents, as well as siblings, can obtain Grenada passports based on a single investment. Montenegro includes spouse and dependent children and, in some cases, dependent parents or grandparents. In Turkey, dependents include spouse and children under age 18.
All three countries offer passports that are permanent (subject to periodic renewals) and not subject to revocation by the government.
While different clients may place different emphasis upon one or more of the above selection criteria, hopefully this analysis will be of some value to investors seeking to obtain a second passport and subsequently apply for an E-2 visa to the US.