Rising antisemitism in the US has prompted many Jewish Americans to create Backup Plans to possibly relocate from the United States. In this article we look at the options available and consider the importance of expert advice.
Prior to Covid, I was visiting Westerplatte in Gdansk Poland. For those who are unfamiliar with Westerplatte, it is considered to be the Polish Alamo. Historians mark the assault on the garrison there on Sept. 1, 1939 as the beginning of World War 2. At the end of the tour, the guide noted that after heroically holding out for 7 long days, the remaining solders surrendered to the invading Germans. When asked what happened to them, the guide said, “They were turned over to the SS and eventually shot”. At that point, a Polish American tourist, turned to me (as a fellow English speaker) and said, “My family left in early 1939, after Kristallnacht. As my grandfather used to say, “The pessimists left and lived….the optimists stayed and died”.
This tourist’s ancestors were reacting to rising antisemitism in Europe in the 1930s. Like them, many Jewish Americans are currently making Backup Plans to possibly relocate from the United States. There are undoubtedly an increasing number of antisemitic incidents, not to mention mainstream politicians using dog whistles like “George Soros backed…”. Therefore, many are giving their families the optionality to move to safer environs if things continue to disintegrate. For those considering a Backup Plan, there are many factors to consider when selecting a destination country. To name a few – quality of life, job opportunities, cultural fit, and ease of travel to and from the US are all vital to consider.
Rising Antisemitism in the US – Is Israel an option?
For many Jewish Americans, the idea of making Aliyah and obtaining citizenship in Israel is an attractive option. The country has strong ties to the Jewish community and has a reputation as a haven for Jewish people. However, there are potential drawbacks in relying solely on Israeli citizenship. First to consider is that the process of making Aliyah takes a considerable amount of time. The Jewish Agency, which is responsible for adjudicating Aliyah claims, currently advises that the processing time can take almost a year from application to visa issuance.
The second and probably more important consideration of only relying on Israeli citizenship is the growing political unrest in the country. Indeed, many Israelis themselves are getting Backup Plans to give their families the option of leaving Israel. While Israel is a vibrant and thriving democracy, it is not without its challenges. In recent years, there has been an increase in tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as growing concerns regarding the influence of religious extremism. Additionally, there have been protests in Israel in response to issues such as high housing costs, income inequality, and corruption in government. It is also important to note that Israel is a relatively small country with a high population density. This can make finding housing and employment challenging. Whilst there are certainly many opportunities in Israel, it may not be the best fit for everyone.
The third reason why Israel alone is not an effective Backup Plan is the fact that Israeli citizens currently need a visa to travel to the US. Israel has applied for inclusion in the US Visa Waiver Program. However, there is significant doubt that they will meet the requirements set out by the US government by Sept. 30, 2023. This shortcoming is particularly relevant to Jewish Americans who might use their Backup Plan to legally and permanently leave the US tax system.
Lineage Citizenship in an EU Member Country
Another option for a Backup Plan is to explore the possibility of obtaining a lineage citizenship in a European country. Many Jewish Americans may have the right to citizenship in European countries based on their ancestry. Of course there might be a hesitancy to gain citizenship from a country that their ancestors fled as a result of persecution. However, it’s important to remember that citizenship in one EU/EEC member state gives an individual the right to live, work or study in all 27 member states of the EU/EEC. This right also extends to spouses/partners and children of the individual.
It is important to remember that the rules relating to citizenship are within the jurisdiction of each member state. Eligibility rules vary significantly. Therefore it is important to get proper advice on all possibilities. While no EU country has citizenship based taxation (like the US), it is critical to consider tax residency, dual citizenship, and military service possibilities that may be attached to a given lineage citizenship.
Similar to the issue previously raised regarding Israel it’s worth understanding if the chosen country is included on the US Visa Waiver List. This factor could seriously affect your freedom of movement. It may be the difference between being able to travel back to the US immediately or having to wait for up to year.
Finally, like making Aliyah, acquiring any lineage citizenship takes time. Ensuring the fastest possible successful processing time is greatly enhanced by getting the right help and advice. First off you should engage expert genealogists. They will ensure you have the documentation required by the issuing country. It’s also vital to engage experienced advisors who have a long track record processing applications in the target country.
Citizenship by Investment
Perhaps eligibility and/or processing time for Israeli or an EU country citizenship make these options either unavailable or unattractive. In this case it may be worthwhile considering the acquisition of a Citizenship by Investment (“CBI”). A number of countries have CBI programs. However, they are not all created equal. Some countries only grant “Honorary Citizenship”… which is similar to being Honorarily Pregnant… in both cases you don’t get the desired outcome!
Consideration must be given to various elements such as:
- the legal basis of the citizenship;
- suitability of that country for relocation;
- sunk costs;
- real FMV of real estate that is being sold (if applicable);
- processing time;
- future physical presence obligations;
- and ease of renewability of passports.
Too often “visa-free travel” is touted as a reason to pay a premium for the specific country’s CBI program. In reality (unless you are a travel blogger) it arguably doesn’t really matter that you can travel to 184 vs.180 countries visa-free. Also, given that the cheapest CBI for a single individual is approximately $150K (all costs included), an individual who has this type of disposable income to spend on a CBI will not have difficulty getting a visa using one of dozens of commercial visa companies for a few hundred dollars.
In educating oneself on which CBI program is right for your family, it’s worth first understanding the source of your information. Is the source a sales person who is pushing a specific offering because it pays them the highest commission? Are they giving you the cons or just inflating the pros? Getting information from expert independent non-commission driven advisors is key. It will not only save significant costs but also allow you to avoid the negative consequences of selecting the wrong jurisdiction.
The possession of a second citizenship is essential to a US expatriation plan. However, many Jewish Americans want to retain their US citizenship. They just wish to move their families to a more welcoming environment abroad.
Many countries offer various means of obtaining temporary, annual or permanent residence. Some of these countries even offer a status which could lead to citizenship by naturalisation. In the Americas alone, the options include Canada, Mexico and numerous countries throughout Central and South America. In Europe, almost every country including the UK will grant residence status based upon a number of possible criteria. These include skills, business experience, investment or even sufficient funds to sustain a retirement lifestyle. Finally, there are residence offerings in the Pacific region including, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Most of the sales people will tout the highly publicised “Golden Visa” programs which will pay them commissions. Therefore, just as in acquiring a second citizenship, reviewing the multitude of residence options requires experienced independent advice.
Tax and other options for Americans
We would certainly argue that acquiring a second residence and/or citizenship is prudent. There are also a number of logistical and financial considerations that Americans must take into account. These issues were explored in-depth in a three part series of articles that I co-authored with a leading US tax advisor.
Ultimately, the decision by Jewish Americans to design and implement an effective Backup Plan is increasingly seen as a realistic reaction to what appears to be an increasingly turbulent time in American history. Acquiring a Backup Plan for your family does not mean curbing your efforts to combat rising anti-semitism. Rather, it is a recognition that such efforts may not always work. Sometimes it is better to be a pessimist and prepared… then an unprepared optimist.