South African citizens can enter 97 countries with a South African passport without requesting a visa beforehand. Still, there are growing numbers who apply for foreign citizenship or residence, which some see as a “safety net” that provides better education and business opportunities.
“Until the end of last year , we would get an emigration inquiry about once every two weeks. Now we are fielding about nine or 10 emigration inquiries a day”, Chris Watters, a lawyer working on immigration and emigration issues, told the Mail & Guardian. He said his law office in Bedfordview, Johannesburg, had seen a spike in demand in the past six months.
While some South African citizens resort to their family history to obtain a second passport, others turn to specialised lawyers.
Citizenship by investment programmes is an option for the well-heeled: countries such as Malta sell residence permits or citizenship in exchange for financial investment in the country.
The United Kingdom, the United States, Malta and Cyprus are among the most popular options to South Africans seeking to emigrate. Each has a citizenship or residence-permit programme established by its government.
Henley & Partners, a company that specialises in residence and citizenship programmes such as these, opened an office in South Africa three years ago.
Vice-chairperson Andrew Taylor has confirmed an increase in demand. “There has been an increase of 50% more inquiries from South Africans in comparison to the same time last year.”
The pace of queries has been accelerating. The company now receives five to 10 a day.
Taylor says his clients plan to emigrate because it will provide their children with opportunities to work and study more easily. The company has also had inquiries from those running global businesses who need access to Europe or Northern America.
Taylor acknowledged that his clients were among the wealthiest 5% in the country. The emigrant needs to invest up to £2-million (about R39-million) to buy a permanent UK residency permit and, after five years, apply for citizenship. In Cyprus, they’d have to invest R34-million to be granted citizenship straight away.
Here is a list of countries South Africans may apply to and their related financial requirements, according to Henley & Partners.
Henley & Partners has seen a spike in demand in the past 18 months that coincides with the Maltese government contracting the company to recruit new citizens: 70% of the firm’s South African clients now choose a Maltese passport, which requires them to disburse around R11.5-million in investments and fees. Portugal ranks second among the company’s clients.
Danilo Ghirlando, honorary consul for Malta for the past five years, declined to divulge how many South Africans had applied for citizenship, but said the number of applications had “roughly doubled” since he took up this position.
Information according to Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index 2014