Millionaire mobility and the sale of citizenship

Kristin Surak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Why do wealthy people purchase citizenship in peripheral countries? This article investigates the demand for citizenship by investment programmes, which enable naturalisation based on a donation or financial investment. Extending research on long-distance naturalisation among the middle class and on residence by investment programmes, I examine the motives of the wealthy using citizenship by investment options. Based on over one hundred interviews with rich naturalisers and intermediaries in the citizenship industry, I find that mobility, both in the present and as a future hedge, is a strong driver, followed by business advantages. Often it is privileges in third countries–not the place granting the citizenship–that are sought. In contrast to middle-class strategic naturalisers, quality of life, education options, and job prospects were not important, though navigating geopolitical barriers and risks were. Many naturalisers were not compensating for the failures of their citizenship at birth, but manoeuvering within a world of state competition. Finally, some individuals inverted the citizenship hierarchy and downgraded from ‘first tier’ memberships when, after years of living abroad, their nationality became a liability. The conclusion elaborates on the duplex structure of intra-state and inter-state inequality that channels demand, and the implications for citizenship more broadly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)166-189
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • citizenship
  • geopolitics
  • hierarchy
  • inequality
  • mobility
  • the wealthy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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