- We can leverage our citizenship and immigration to raise the much-needed foreign direct investments.
- It may sound funny but it is actually very easy money if we dare think outside the box.
- Let us get creative with our immigration laws and make some good money out of it.
The Business Daily on April 6 carried a story about citizenship by investment taking shape in Kenya. Since independence, Kenya has relied on a few sources of income such as tourism, agriculture, and taxes to run the economy.
Unfortunately, these incomes are not sufficient to sustain our budget and therefore we continue to borrow and tax heavily to fill these gaps. Consequently, Kenyans feel they are highly taxed and indebted and are currently up in arms against the IMF for continuing to lend Kenya money, sinking us further into debt.
We can leverage our citizenship and immigration to raise the much-needed foreign direct investments. It may sound funny but it is actually very easy money if we dare think outside the box. Let us get creative with our immigration laws and make some good money out of it. A number of countries in the world today have citizenship and residency by investment where good wealthy people invest and in return get residence or citizenship.
Some of the countries are the UK, Malta, Cyprus, the Netherlands, St. Kitts and Nevis and closer home South Africa. The options and costs differ from country to country but the costs range from $100,000 to millions of dollars. In the UK, for instance, one is required to invest at least two million pounds or about Sh260 million.
Currently, one can become a citizen by either marrying a Kenyan or residing here on a lawful residence for seven years. While this is fine and should continue, we should create another category of residency or citizenship for the ultra high net worth individuals keen on residence in Kenya.
Kenya is one place many wealthy people would love to reside in — from the beautiful coastal beach fronts to the Kenyan highlands or the leafy suburbs of Nairobi or other cities and towns.
I have been approached by a few such individuals keen on exploring Kenyan citizenship or residence by investment but unfortunately our immigration laws do not have those kinds of options.
If, for example, Bill Gates or Aliko Dangote wants to have a home and residence in Kenya today, their options would be either Class K (ordinary residence) or Class G (investor permit) both of which are limiting and issued only for two to three years and renewable every two to three years.
This is not the case with other countries with residence or citizenship by investment option. In those countries once you meet the investment threshold and obviously get cleared on other considerations such as security you are either given permanent residence or citizenship, allowing you to enjoy all the benefits attendant to it.
I believe if we get creative with our immigration we can raise substantial foreign investment and cash injections into our economy from ultra high net worth individuals of good global standing. I am imagining Bill Gates or Aliko Dangote having a beach front home in Mombasa that he frequents and what that would mean in terms of jobs created and money spent here.
Additionally, the rich people are always scouting for places to invest thus they could be here on holiday and spot an opportunity and decide to inject some cash. In fact the mere fact that such people own homes in a place make prices of properties in such a place increase exponentially because it is likely that other wealthy personalities will consider investing there too.
I see Immigration as a natural resource akin to oil, gold or even the airwaves that we sell licences to the telecoms operators to raise money. We can tap into this on our own terms and raise cash. We could, for instance, say if you inject Sh100 million to Sh1 billion into specific sectors of the Kenyan economy then you get permanent residence and if you inject more, say Sh10 billion, we give you citizenship if you pass other security and legal requirements.
The proposal by the Kenya Investment Authority to amend our laws to provide for citizenship and residency by investment is brilliant. However, we need to make it clear that this is not just about citizenship: it is first about investments into Kenya then we incentivise those investors by granting them residency or citizenship.
But we must be extremely clear on the how and who to be involved in this process to avoid the pitfalls that come with it such as corruption and transnational crimes.
Parliament must make laws to specifically govern this and set stringent regulations and modalities of operationalising it. Once the concerned agencies have processed and approved these investors, the same should be tabled before Parliament for approval before the President can grant Kenyan citizenship. Failure to do so will give room for citizenship-related scandals and defeat the very essence of having these programmes in place.
Kenya is a beautiful country with quite a developed infrastructure, educated population, amazing weather, culture, fantastic tourist attraction sites and very centrally located in Africa for ease of travel across the continent. W need to tap into that and get the monies coming in.
Mucee is Practice Leader, Fragomen Kenya LTD