Global Mobility Trends: Wealth Migration

Wealth and talent will go where they are wanted and stay where they are well treated. Today that adage — attributed to legendary banker Walter Wriston — is truer than ever. Some 95,000 high-net-worth individuals migrated in 2017 (the latest year for which data is available), up from 82,000 in 2016 and 64,000 the year before — ample evidence that the migration of wealth around the globe continues to accelerate.

There are an estimated 18.2 million high-net-worth individuals on the planet (defined as those with assets of at least USD 1 million), and their collective wealth has now surpassed the USD 70 trillion mark. That number also continues to grow and is projected to exceed USD 100 trillion by 2025. The migration of these individuals is particularly beneficial for the nations they move to. Nearly half of the 17 countries that saw the biggest percentage increases in wealth from 2016 to 2017 were assisted by inflows of wealthy people.

China, India, Turkey, and the UK saw the biggest outflows of such individuals in 2017. Safety, financial stability, high taxes, and religious or political tensions are a few of the factors driving these wealthy citizens abroad. According to the 2017 Knight Frank Wealth Report, demand for new nationalities is highest from China, Russia, and the Middle East, with around four-fifths of visas under the US EB-5 residence-by-investment program going to Chinese nationals.

Millionaires looking for residence or citizenship in alternative jurisdictions are seeking better schools, lower crime rates, and more abundant business opportunities. They are finding these conditions in nations such as Australia, the US, and Canada, which topped the list of wealthy individual inflows in 2017. In the case of Britain, Brexit and the concerns associated with it have slightly reversed the flow of wealthy individuals in recent years, although the UK Tier 1 Investor Visa Program remained popular until its temporary suspension in December 2018.

Wealthy individuals tend to have the skills, knowledge, capacity — and capital — that can increase an economy’s overall wealth and standard of living.

Flows go both ways, however, and there has been a noticeable and significant increase in appetite among wealthy individuals in both Europe and the US for access to residence- and citizenship-by-investment programs in other nations — a trend that is set to increase. More broadly, overall demand for a second passport continued to grow in 2018: more than a third of global ultra-high-net-worth individuals (those with a net worth exceeding USD 30 million) already hold one, and another 29% are planning to obtain one.

In addition to the larger economies taking in wealthy individuals, several smaller nations — Cyprus, Malta, Mauritius, Monaco, and Portugal among them — also saw significant wealth inflows in 2017. Several of these nations are benefiting from residence- and citizenship-by-investment programs. Malta, for example, saw a 12% increase in its ultra-wealthy population in 2016, primarily due to its citizenship-by-investment program.

Such programs account for about one in five wealthy individual migrations, though this number excludes individuals who gain citizenship in a second country but do not take residence, as well as those who move globally among several residences. Including such individuals would show an even larger impact on global wealth trends from the investment migration industry.

Wealth is clearly on the move globally, now more than ever. Wealthy individuals tend to have the skills, knowledge, capacity — and capital — that can increase an economy’s overall wealth and standard of living. Attracting and keeping them are critical to nations seeking those outcomes.

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