On Marketplace, listen to Kristin Surak explain the appeal to the ultrarich of pursuing full citizenship in multiple nations:
The first comprehensive on-the-ground investigation of the global market for citizenship, examining the wealthy elites who buy passports, the states and brokers who sell them, and the normalization of a once shadowy practice.
Our lives are in countless ways defined by our citizenship. The country we belong to affects our rights, our travel possibilities, and ultimately our chances in life. Obtaining a new citizenship is rarely easy. But for those with the means—billionaires like Peter Thiel and Jho Low, but also countless unknown multimillionaires—it’s just a question of price.
More than a dozen countries, many of them small islands in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and South Pacific, sell citizenship to 50,000 people annually. Through six years of fieldwork on four continents, Kristin Surak discovered how the initially dubious sale of passports has transformed into a full-blown citizenship industry that thrives on global inequalities. Some “investor citizens” hope to parlay their new passport into visa-free travel—or use it as a stepping stone to residence in countries like the United States. Other buyers take out a new citizenship as an insurance policy or to escape state control at home. Almost none, though, intend to move to their selected country and live among their new compatriots, whose relationship with these global elites is complex.
A groundbreaking study of a contentious practice that has become popular among the nouveaux riches, The Golden Passport takes readers from the details of the application process to the geopolitical hydraulics of the citizenship industry. It’s a business that thrives on uncertainty and imbalances of power between big, globalized economies and tiny states desperate for investment. In between are the fascinating stories of buyers, brokers, and sellers, all ready to profit from the citizenship trade.