The Cyprus citizenship and residency regimes are some of the best internationally, but more can be done to further improve the programmes and their reputation to ensure long-term benefits for the local economy, says Yiannos Trisokkas, Managing Partner, Henley & Partners.
Could you give a brief overview of Henley & Partners?
Henley & Partners is a global investment migration firm whose primary focus is on the global citizenship and residency options made available by various national investment programmes. Our chairman, Dr Christian H. Kälin is widely acknowledged as the founder of the industry as we know it. We are the global leaders in this market and service the industry in two important ways. One facet of our work involves advising governments on how to launch and upgrade their programmes in order to attract foreign direct investment. The second service line is to educate and advise high-net-worth individuals to apply to these programmes based on their needs. We are not ‘selling’ countries or programmes but listening to our clients’ needs and giving them recommendations based on our expertise on what programme would suit them best. I must underline that we are not marketeers; we deal in facts and do not promote these programmes, but rather look at the requirements of our clients and analyse which country and programme is the best fit.
We are not lawyers who deal with litigation, corporate services, trusts or audits. Our core concern is in the citizenship and residency business, and this sets us apart from other citizenship and residency service providers, both in Cyprus and internationally. On a global level, there are very few companies that can offer the type of expertise we provide. We are the leaders in this niche business and our top-tier clientele proves that.
Today we have over 30 offices worldwide, having established our first one in Zurich – started by our chairman. The Cyprus office was opened in 2013. When I started at Henley & Partners we had about 50 staff members worldwide, today we have over 330, and we are expecting to grow to 1,000-strong in the next five years. In short, we are constantly evolving and growing. We therefore need to continuously expand our know-how and expertise to keep ahead of the game and meet the expectations of our clients.
What are the key reasons people choose to acquire citizenship or residency in another country?
We live in a truly globalised world today, and there are various reasons why people seek alternative citizenship or residency solutions. One major reason is for global mobility, which is an increasingly important aspect for many people, whether for business or lifestyle purposes. Other reasons are, for example, to increase personal safety and to expand career opportunities. Many of our high-net-worth clients also seek citizenship in other countries to secure better educational opportunities and future prospects for their children. It is an unfortunate, but inescapable fact, that certain passports allow for better mobility, rights, and security. There is nothing wrong with trying to build a better future for oneself and one’s family by increasing citizenship or residency options.
The general perception of the investment migration industry has unfortunately been influenced by a certain degree of misrepresentation in the press recently. Focus has centred on a few sensational stories of crooked individuals trying to take advantage of investment migration in order to avoid paying tax or to hide from something. These instances represent a very small minority of cases, which the industry must continue to ensure become even less common. When you meet the average people looking into these types of programmes, you see quite a different picture.
How does the Cyprus citizenship scheme, branded the Cyprus Investment Programme, compare with the other global programmes?
The Cyprus Investment Programme is certainly one of the best ones out there when you take into consideration what you gain with the level of investment required. The passport is ranked quite high in global comparisons, and in addition the fact that Cyprus is an EU member and politically neutral is a bonus. The programme is well designed so that both the successful applicant as well as the economy of Cyprus benefit. So in essence, it serves its purpose well.
Which countries do most of the applicants for the Cyprus programme come from?
There is the common misconception that the majority are Russians. You would be surprised how diverse the backgrounds of our clients actually are. Just to give you some idea, we have successful applicants from countries such as the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, South Africa, Morocco, China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Australia and many more. It is a very diverse clientele who have just as diverse needs and expectations.
Out of the numerous investment options provided in the programme, which are the most popular in terms of your applicants?
Investment in real estate is by far the most popular option, largely because the Cyprus government has made this a priority sector in need of more investment and provided numerous incentives in this regard. Real estate is also a pretty straightforward investment to manage and operate. However, looking to the future I think other options such as company formation and investment funds will become more popular too.
These types of programmes have recently come under fire in the international press. Is this justified and how can Cyprus ensure its programme holds up to scrutiny?
Most of the bad press directed at this industry tends to exaggerate and sensationalise cases in which a single crooked individual has sought citizenship in one of the jurisdictions offering citizenship or residence by investment. One rotten apple can ruin it for everyone. However, there is always more that can be done to further improve the Cyprus programme and its reputation. Removing the potential for opportunism and making it more difficult for people to treat the programme as a ‘cash cow’ are obviously desirable outcomes moving forward.
There should also be more stringent regulation implemented to protect the programme’s integrity. Some of these measures are already in play and we see this as a positive direction that we are all moving in. We also need more oversight to vet those providing investment migration services to ensure that full compliance is maintained and to launch clear guidelines so that everyone is playing by the same rules. This is crucial in order to keep the programme on solid foundations and maintain transparency and compliance.
Due diligence and knowing your client are imperative aspects of this business and Cyprus must be prudent when considering applicants. All service providers involved need to operate with the correct level of expertise and best practice procedures. The industry needs to invest time, effort and education to ensure things are correctly handled, because this is ultimately what will protect the programme and its integrity, as well as the health of the industry. A shift in mentality would also help, in terms of looking at these programmes not only as a way of adding revenue, but more importantly as a means of welcoming and accommodating successful international individuals who can bring serious investment, business and diverse expertise into the country.
How do you see the future of this type of business?
Globalisation and the proliferation of global citizens will ensure these types of services will continue to be popular for wealthy individuals. What is key is to ensure we maintain a solid and transparent framework and, as a country, show the hospitality that we are renowned for. The number of applicants is growing and the procedure time to process applications is actually becoming longer. Education is the key to success for our line of business and this applies both to the government and to the clients when considering what is possible and what is not. As mentioned, proper due diligence and meticulous compliance is the way forward. If we can achieve this, we will ensure the long-term success of this programme, and it can continue to bring multiple benefits for our economy in a sustainable and responsible manner.