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OpenAI and Google CEOs Among America’s Tech Moguls Acquiring More Visas, Citizenships

Billionaire Peter Thiel

By Naomi Buchanan

In September, OpenAI co-founder and CEO Sam Altman became the first recipient of Indonesia’s “golden visa,” joining other wealthy American tech moguls in paying to upgrade his immigration status in other countries.

Citizenship-by-investment programs around the world allow the ultra-wealthy to purchase passports or visas, giving them access to some benefits enjoyed by naturalized citizens for a pretty penny.

What is a Golden Passport?

A golden passport or golden visa describes investment-based immigration programs that grant citizenship or visa status in exchange for investment in the local economy.

Indonesia opened its golden visa program on Sept. 2, 2023, and offers a residence permit for five to 10 years with the stated aim of supporting the national economy.

Golden visa holders enjoy a number of benefits, including inspection lines and priority services at airports, longer periods of stay, and ease of entry and exit to Indonesia.

Europe Leads Regions Americans Are Seeking Citizenship Through Investment

Indonesia is not the only country offering immigration perks for big spenders. Indonesia’s Director General of Immigration cited the positive impact experienced by countries with golden visa systems, specifically Denmark and the United Arab Emirates.

The majority of Americans seeking a second citizenship said they were attracted to opportunities in Europe in a Get Golden Visa Research Team survey examining Americans who are looking for a second residency outside the U.S., reporting that 90% rank residency in Europe as their first choice.

For those wanting citizenship or a visa in the European Union (EU), Portugal and Malta offer investment-based opportunities. For an investment of at least €690,000 (around $739,000), Malta will grant citizenship to someone living in the country for as little as one year who purchased real estate valued at a minimum of €700,000 (around $750,000), Immigrant Invest, a consulting firm that helps wealthy people obtain second citizenship and residence permits by investment, reported. Portugal will grant a residence permit, the first step in acquiring citizenship, for those who spend at least seven days in the first year in the country and transfer capital equal to €1.5 million ($1.6 million) or buy real estate.

Why the World’s Wealthy Seek Additional Visas and Citizenships

Ezzedeen Soleiman, a managing partner at Latitude Consultancy, a private global citizenship and residency planning firm, told Investopedia that clients often “seek a contingency plan or insurance policy in case of future travel, business, or lifestyle restrictions, similar to those experienced during the pandemic.”

Soleiman, who specializes in the golden passport market in North America, says that most of his American clients are interested in the European Union, where a second citizenship from an EU country can also provide access to other EU member states. He noted that Portugal’s Golden Visa is a highly sought-after residency program among his clients, as well as Malta’s Exceptional Investor Program.

Tech Moguls Who Jumped on the Trend:

Sam Altman

Sam Altman, an OpenAI co-founder and CEO, was the first to be granted a golden visa from Indonesia, allowing him easy access to the Southeast Asian country through an investment-based immigration program.

Indonesia's Directorate General of Immigration issued Alterman a 10-year visa on Monday, Sept. 4, 2023, allowing him ease of entry and exit to Indonesia. The visa was the first of its kind issued after the country rolled out its golden visa program intended for foreign corporate and individual investors who are considered to benefit the country's economic development.

The five-year and 10-year visas come at $2.5 million and $5 million, respectively, for individual investors setting up a company in Indonesia. In this case, the aim of Alterman’s golden visa is to contribute to the development of the artificial intelligence ecosystem in Indonesia.

Eric Schmidt

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt (GOOGL) is reportedly a citizen of Cyprus after securing a golden passport. Schmidt’s quest for citizenship in Cyprus was first reported by Recode after a notice of filing in a local Cypriot newspaper, Alithia, in October 2020.

Just a month later, the program was brought to a halt. Cyprus stopped taking new applications for its golden passport program in November 2020, after the EU started an infringement procedure against the “investor citizenship scheme” citing the process which grants “nationality—and thereby EU citizenship—in exchange for a pre-determined payment or investment and without a genuine link” to the country itself (which) “is not compatible” with EU principles.

The program also attracted scrutiny after leaked government documents revealed that foreigners with ties to crime and corruption were granted citizenship through the golden passport program for as little as $2.5 million, an Al Jazeera investigation found.

Recently, the Cypriot government has stripped several investors of their golden citizenship.

Billionaire Peter Thiel, Paypal (PYPL) co-founder and an early investor in Facebook,

now Meta (META), was granted New Zealand citizenship in 2011.

Thiel’s Kiwi citizenship was criticized in part due to the number of days he spent in the country before being granted citizenship. Thiel was in New Zealand for only 12 days in the five years before his application for citizenship in comparison with the 1,350 days typically required. The government defended its decision, saying that in this instance “someone who may not satisfy the normal criteria for citizenship” was granted it because it “would be in the public interest because of exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian or other nature relating to the applicant.”

In 2022, Thiel was pursuing yet another golden passport in Malta, the New York Times reported.

The Maltese investment-based citizenship program has received similar criticism from the EU as that garnered by Cyprus. Unlike Cyprus, Malta still allows citizenship acquisition for direct investment of at minimum $670,000.

Peter Thiel


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