Millionaires on the move: migrating the world’s top 1%

Covid undoubtedly disrupted the relocation plans of the internationally mobile for a couple of years. But, with fears over the pandemic now fading, 2024 is projected to set new records globally for the migration of high-net-worth (HNW) individuals. David Sapsted reports.


This article is taken from the Summer 2024 issue of

Think Global People magazine

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Millionaire migration is expected to top 128,000 this year, up from 2023’s total of 120,000, itself well over twice the figure recorded a decade earlier. And as the years have passed, so has the choice of nations grown. While the US used to be the default option for many – and remains home to 37% of people globally with more than $1 million of liquid investable assets – the attraction of other nations has grown progressively in recent years.“The ‘American dream’ was built by migrants and the world’s millionaires continue to flock to its shores, although net inflows for 2023 were well below the likes of Australia, Singapore and the UAE,” says Mehdi Kadiri, managing partner and head of North America at Henley & Partners, the global consultancy in residence and citizenship by investment.“While the USA saw a dip in high-net-worth individual inflows during the pandemic, 2023 marked a recovery with a net inflow of 2,200 millionaires compared to 1,500 in 2022. 2024 is projected to see another net rise in excess of 3,500 based on current trends. However, all these figures still fall short of peak levels of 5,000-plus per year seen prior to 2019.”Mr Kadiri said that the US remained a top attraction for wealthy tech entrepreneurs and engineers, especially from Asia, Europe and the UK. But he added: “Recent years have exposed cracks in the facade. Civil unrest and brazen political attacks on democracy and the rule of law, coupled with eroding social cohesion, raise tough questions about America’s future stability and ability to attract global talent over the longer term.”

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Golden visas

The forecast that HNW migration was set to reach a new high this year might have come as something of a surprise at a time when an increasing number of countries are abolishing or imposing restrictions on so-called ‘golden visas’ – visas that offer wealthy foreigners the right to residency if they invest minimum amounts in the local economy.Over the past two years, the UK, Ireland, Bulgaria and Latvia have all scrapped such schemes, primarily to prevent Russians taking advantage of them after the invasion of Ukraine and amid fears the visas could be used for money laundering.Fran Rance, a specialist in immigration law at London law firm, Mishcon de Reya, commented: “While the UK remains one of the world's top destinations, the available immigration pathways have shifted in recent years. Various changes in government policy have resulted in a more restrictive landscape and have enhanced the need for careful planning around all aspects of an individual’s move.“Following the closure of the Tier 1 Investor route (the UK's golden visa) in February 2022, there has been a move towards routes which require active engagement with a UK business and, in many cases, endorsement (or pre-approval) by a third-party organisation. This has had an impact on high-net-worth migration to the UK, as well as developments in other areas of government policy.”In fact, the UK government revealed in the spring that it was reviewing the nation’s options for attracting HNWs. It said in the Budget paper: “The government will legislate to reinstate the previous eligibility criteria to qualify as a high-net-worth or sophisticated investor and will also carry out further work to review the scope of the exemptions.”On the other hand, at the start of 2024 Australia axed its golden visa – the Significant Investor Visa (SIV), which required a A$5 million investment and was overwhelmingly taken up by people from China – because it was “delivering poor economic outcomes”. In its stead, the government expanded its skilled worker visa scheme.Amid pressure from the European Union, the Netherlands also abandoned its golden visa programme this year while, in May, Spain followed Portugal’s example and amended its scheme by removing real estate investments as a basis for golden visa applications because they were found to be destabilising local housing markets.

Where to invest

Nevertheless, Portugal and Spain remain top European choices for HNW individuals, along with the golden visas available in Greece, Cyprus and Italy, mainly because of the nations’ climates, scenery and stable political climates.Similar attractions, along with the ease of visas available to wealthy newcomers, have increased the appeal of many Caribbean nations and the likes of Austria, Canada, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Namibia, New Zealand, Panama, Singapore, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Hong Kong.Others are now eyeing their own golden visa schemes in a bid to attract foreign investors, with Indonesia launching a programme last September that offers residency for a minimum $2.5 million investment in a local business, or $350,000 in local shares.Such initiatives, of course, reflect ambitions to increase a country’s appeal for foreign direct investment (FDI) – an area where the US has reigned supreme for the past 12 years, according to the ‘2024 FDI Confidence Index’ published by Kearney, an American global management consulting firm with offices in more than 40 nations.“The strength of the US economy – the fastest growing in the G7 – and rebounding consumer sentiment likely supported this score,” reported Kearney. “Canada also makes a strong showing, maintaining its second-place rank and forming part of the top five markets for the 12th consecutive year.”China, including Hong Kong, jumped from seventh to third position in the index while the UK overtook Germany to occupy fourth place. Japan, meanwhile, dropped from third to seventh.“Overall, this year’s survey revealed investors’ preference for developed markets, which accounted for 17 of the 25 markets on the index. However, emerging markets continue to build their presence on the list, with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in particular experiencing meteoric rises from 18th to 8th and 24th to 14th, respectively,” said Kearney.

World cities’ appeal

When it comes to cities attracting HNW individuals, the US continues to lead the field with 11 cities in the top 50, according to the ‘2024 World's Wealthiest Cities Report’, published by Henley in collaboration with global data intelligence firm, New World Wealth. New York sits atop the global rankings with total wealth held by the Big Apple’s residents now exceeding $3 trillion, comprising “a staggering 349,500 millionaires, 744 centi-millionaires (with investable wealth of over US$100 million), and 60 billionaires,” according to the report.California’s Bay Area, consisting of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, is second on the list followed by Tokyo, which was top of the table a decade ago, but has since seen a 5% decline in HNW residents. Singapore occupies fourth place in the rankings, followed by London.Juerg Steffen, CEO of Henley & Partners, says a key factor driving growth in the world’s wealthiest cities has been the strong performance of financial markets in recent years. “Additionally, rapid advancements in artificial intelligence, robotics and blockchain technology have provided new opportunities for wealth creation and accumulation. Yet, even as new opportunities emerge, old risks persist. The war in Ukraine, which has seen Moscow’s millionaire population plummet by 24% to 30,300, is a stark reminder of the fragility of wealth in an uncertain and unstable world.”Despite these reservations, the opportunities accompanying advances in the tech sector have given rise to a new generation of expat – the so-called ‘TechPats’. In a survey, expatriate insurance company William Russell has looked at more that 40 countries to reveal the ones with the fastest internet speeds, with Singapore leading the pack on fixed broadband speeds, followed by Hong Kong, Chile, the UAE and US.The report added: “The best country for future TechPats in terms of mobile internet speed is the United Arab Emirates. The country with the most job opportunities for future TechPats is Singapore. On LinkedIn, there are currently 3,755 advertisements for software engineer jobs. This equates to 622 jobs per capita.”All of which indicates that the choices for HNWs are increasing across the world, with growing numbers now eschewing traditional centres in the West and Australasia amid geopolitical changes. Instead, eyes are turning to the fast-emerging economies, particularly in Asia. The pandemic, it seems, has facilitated time for a pause for thought – or, at least, a pause for second thoughts – among the world’s wealthier, would-be migrants.

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