Zaid Al Hindi: Transforming Lives Through Citizenship by Investment

   The founder and CEO of Imperial Citizenship, Zaid Al Hindi, discovered his true calling in residency and citizenship by investment industry after his family migrated to Canada as Palestinian refugees. Over the past decade, Al Hindi has facilitated the acquisition of residency or citizenship by investment for over 2,000 clients. He tells Vanessa Obioha about his intention to extend the same assistance to Nigerian High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) following the recent opening of his office in Lagos.

You would never know that Zaid Al Hindi had barely slept when he came downstairs on a recent sunny afternoon. We were at the posh office of Imperial Citizenship in Ikoyi, Lagos. Dressed in trousers, polo and a blazer, he looked refreshingly composed despite having spent the previous night with his team at a party hosted by a friend celebrating their new office opening in Lagos. 

As he sat thoughtfully on the sofa, a member of his team, Kamel Ayache, suggested a cup of coffee to help clear his head. Yet, despite the offer and the previous night’s festivities, no trace of fatigue was evident in Al Hindi’s demeanour as he observed the bustling activity around him. From the PR team organising the interview flow to his own team contributing ideas for the ongoing campaign of their new office opening, Al Hindi remained calm and focused, occasionally offering input or seeking clarifications.

When his coffee finally arrived in a cute little teacup, Al Hindi hardly took a sip. Yet, he remained as sharp as a knife throughout our conversation.

As a naturalized Canadian citizen, Al Hindi discovered his true calling in the residency and citizenship by investment industry after his family migrated to Canada as Palestinian refugees when he was just a young boy. He vividly remembered watching his father apply for citizenship, which sparked his own fascination with the process. This childhood intrigue later evolved into a passion for helping other families obtain second citizenship, a pursuit that he believes has profoundly transformed his life in ways he never imagined.

“It allowed me the freedom of mobility, to live in many countries that I never had the opportunity to do before,” he said. “I liked how it changed my life. And I wanted to get into the industry that helps a lot of people change their lives as well and this is what we’ve been doing, helping a lot of families achieve second residency, citizenship, for mobility reasons, for security, for even having better job opportunities.”

Also known as economic citizenship, CBI is a process where foreign nationals can gain citizenship of a country in exchange for making significant financial contributions to its economy. This is used by many countries to attract investments and boost economic growth. These investments often involve substantial financial contributions in areas like real estate, business ventures, or government bonds. In return, investors are granted full citizenship, which may include benefits like visa-free travel, business opportunities, and tax advantages.

Over the years, Al Hindi gathered experience in the  Residency and Citizenship by Investment (CBI) Industry, working with companies that offer CBI such as Henley & Partners where he served as a citizenship investment advisor, and Passport Legacy where he served as a partner.  In 2021, he founded Imperial Citizenship, a Canadian-managed firm registered in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, specialized in helping investors obtain a second citizenship or residency through the means of investments. He has so far helped over 2,000 families acquire residency or citizenship by investment.

“We work with 14 different countries that offer either legal residency or citizenship,” he said.

Imperial Citizenship offers investors CBI services in the Caribbean, South Pacific and Europe. They also assist investors to obtain residency in the UAE, Greece, Portugal and Malta.

In the Caribbean, they work with St. Kitts,  Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada as well as St. Lucia, all of which offer direct CBI.

“That means you can make a contribution to the National Development Fund of that country or you can invest in the tourism sector, to invest basically in five-star resorts that are approved by the government.”

In Europe, he said, there are other CBI programmes such as real estate investment where one can buy property in the country and get a golden visa.

“We have that also in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. Portugal actually stopped that right now but they have it through a fund investment. You have Spain where with 500,000 Euros, you can buy a property and you get to vote on these also, which means you get to European residency without the need to live there. And Greece also has this option as well, in terms of residency.”

CBI has often fetched criticisms over the commodification of citizenship and the creation of wealth inequality. Al Hindi however has a different opinion.

“There’s a lot of different angles you can think about this. These programmes are designed to bring foreign investments to their country. They not only help people get citizenship but also help the citizens of the countries that have designed these programmes. There are a lot of infrastructure projects that are being created in these countries such as hotel projects to improve the tourism of the country which in turn improves every sector and creates more job opportunities for the people. A lot of hospitals have been built because of these programmes, so the citizens are actually taking advantage of what these programmes bring to their country, and how they are improving the infrastructure and the economy as well.”

Another concern regarding CBI is the potential for individuals with criminal backgrounds or tax evasion history to exploit it as a means to evade justice in their home country. Al Hindi stressed that compliance is very key in their industry. Therefore, they ensure a transparent process by conducting thorough background checks to verify the legitimacy of funds and to ensure applicants have no past or present criminal records.

Yet, the benefits of CBI far outweigh the downsides.

“It is mainly for security, you know, having a second identity. As I told you, I was born in Syria. I’m from Palestinian origins. Sometimes even opening a bank account becomes very difficult. This is my second lifeline,” he said, citing the ease of opening a bank account as a Canadian citizen compared to using Syrian identification documents.

Beyond security, mobility and job opportunities, Al Hindi views second citizenship as an investment in future generations.

Recently, Al Hindi opened his new office in Lagos, targeting Nigeria’s high-net-worth individuals. The event drew well-heeled guests from different sectors of the economy including the Lagos State House of Assembly member representing Lagos Island 1, Hon. Lara Oyekan Olumegbon; Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs. Toke Benson; Chief Executive Officer, Grenada CBI Unit, Thomas Anthony; Founder and Chairman of Gibraltar Construction Nigeria, Sir Olu Okeowo, among others.

The decision to expand to Africa through Nigeria, according to Al Hindi was fuelled by the data from the CBI industry that shows that over 30 per cent of the applications received were from Nigeria.

“It shows you that there is a very big demand. There are a lot of business people that need second citizenship for mobility. There have been a lot of applications for Schengen and the UK that have been rejected. This gives them the opportunity to actually travel and conduct their business without any limitations. They’re able to travel to the UK and within the Schengen zone. Some countries even offer visa-free to China, Singapore, and Hong Kong. So it really depends on the family and what they’re looking to achieve.”

For its Nigerian clients, Al Hindi hopes to offer  opportunities to get second citizenship in the countries they work with without the need to relocate.

“This is going to improve the Nigerian economy because it gives them more opportunities to travel, source different products and expand their businesses globally, while still living in Nigeria. A lot of the investors that we work with would like to stay and continue their businesses in Nigeria. They don’t have the luxury of packing their bags, relocating for six years to another country and leaving their businesses alone. So this gives them the opportunity to still get what they want while remaining and conducting their business in Nigeria.”

For Al Hindi, people are becoming more aware of global mobility, “and that’s because they want to be free,” he said.

“Freedom is the cost that everyone is looking for. They want to be able to get a second citizenship to travel and expand their business. It’s very important.  Before, it used to be a want but now it’s a necessity. You need to be able to travel wherever you want,  open bank accounts with ease and not be restricted by the nationality or the country that you were born in.”

As a leader in CBI, Al Hindi has travelled to most countries in the world, and as such sees travel as an opportunity to learn different cultures. For instance, he has been coming to Nigeria since 2014 and even learnt a few pidgin expressions such as ‘how far.’ He has also been to local markets such as the Mushin market — despite objections from loved ones — just to know more about the people.

“I’m the kind of guy that likes to do things myself,’’ he said.

Through his interactions with Nigerians, Al Hindi has come to see Nigeria as a country of friendly people.

“They’re welcoming. When you meet with a Nigerian business prospect, the beginning of the conversation is very serious but at the end, we are laughing and joking. We feel like we’re family.  I have a lot of Nigerian friends that I consider family. They invite us to their house and they come visit me in Dubai sometimes as well. I think the people of Nigeria are really really amazing. Very hardworking and dedicated as well.” To date, nothing beats the feeling of handing families their citizenship certificates for Al Hindi. It is simply overwhelming and thrilling akin to purchasing a new car or a new house.

“We’ve changed a lot of family’s lives. I have messages from their children, and their families, thanking us for the opportunity and the professionalism of how we got them from A to Z. I think for everyone in our company that’s the most enjoyment we get and we are dedicated to giving more families this opportunity,” he said.

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