April 15, 2019

On the surface, India’s market for investment migration has the same fundamental conditions as China; a population of some 1.3 billion, a passport with limited mobility, a large number of HNWIs, and plenty of push factors like pollution, restrictions on individual liberty, and lack of educational opportunities. But look closer, and you’ll find that India has many more obstacles – mainly cultural – that have prevented the investment migration market from flourishing to the same degree that it has in China.

We’ll look at each of these limiting factors in turn but, first, some background.

Read also: Basic Dos and Don’ts for Entering the Indian Investment Migration Market – By Prashant Ajmera

A brief history of Indian emigration

Migration from India to other countries around the world started in earnest more than 100 years ago. Back then, the migrants were mostly laborers recruited to work on sugar plantations in the Caribbean islands and Mauritius, railroads in Canada, and as industrial and domestic workers in South Africa, Malaysia, and Indonesia. During this period, only people with meager means thought of migrating abroad in order to sustain their families.

After India’s independence from British rule in 1947, however, this labor migration decreased dramatically. The post-independence period saw Indians leaving the country for a very different reason; that of obtaining higher education and, thereafter, settling abroad. During this period, foreign migration became a symbol of social status, and obtaining a foreign education and living abroad become aspirations that most Indians nurtured but which very few of them could afford.

The most favored destinations were the USA and the UK. Qualified Indians pursued higher studies in these countries and then settled into lucrative jobs. Doctors, engineers, and architects from India settled in these countries during this time.

In the mid-seventies, the Gulf countries – notably the UAE, Oman, and Kuwait – were growing exponentially thanks to petrodollars. Need for advanced infrastructure development, high-tech facilities and world-class standards of living generated demand for a huge labor force; qualified professionals as well as labourers.

This unprecedented growth prompted a second wave of workforce migration from India to the Middle Eastern countries. Presently the Indian diaspora is the most populous expat community in the Middle East.

This era was fraught with recruitment scams and fraudsters cheating ignorant workers with false promises of a highly paid job and a better life in exchange for huge amounts of money. Because of this, in the year 1983, the Indian government passed the Emigration Act to regulate agents recruiting manpower from India mainly to Middle Eastern countries.

In 1993, Canada introduced skilled migration. It was a highly streamlined process, paving the way for systematic skilled worker migration from India to Canada. Eventually, Australia, New Zealand, and some European countries also joined the fray.

During the late 80s and all throughout the 90s, the growing IT industries and start-ups in Western countries and the Y2K problem attracted a large pool of IT professionals from India.

These professionals, who received mediocre salaries in India, were highly paid by foreign companies. Good money, cushy jobs and a high standard of living eventually prompted them to settle down with their families in these countries. This was a period of ‘brain-drain’ for India.

All this migration created a very deep stigma in the upper echelons of Indian society who began to regard migration as something undertaken by economically deprived people only. According to them, migration was for people with lesser means so that they could earn more abroad.

Interestingly, many of these wealthy people who looked down on migration had themselves migrated from villages to cities within India in search of wealth and a better life during their youth.

This gives us a brief background as to how migration evolved in India. Though we are at the threshold of the year 2020, Indian HNWIs are quite slow in making a decision to immigrate abroad. Residency and citizenship by investment is a concept that still hasn’t struck a chord with many Indians.

The 10 main reasons Indian HNWIs have been slow to embrace residence and citizenship by investment

1.The mind-set that immigration is only for the economically deprived

As mentioned, not only HNWIs but a majority of Indians harbor a deeply rooted belief that immigration is only for the economically deprived. In my 27 years of practice, I have come across a great number of people who come to consult me and start the conversation with these lines: “We are very well-to-do and not interested in moving abroad. But I am doing this (immigrating) for the sake of my children’s education and future”.

Most of these people are senior executives of multinationals, owners of SMEs, or wealthy businesspersons. They enjoy a high standard of living and their net worth is in the millions of dollars.

2. Stable democracy and good standard of living

India became independent in 1947, but today it is the world’s largest democracy. Though home to several religions, languages, and classes of people, it is a relatively safe country in which to live. The law and order situation is reasonably good and, though there may be unrest in a few pockets across the nation from time to time, there is peace and safety most of the time.

Additionally, the Indian economy is getting stronger by the day. These factors discourage many Indian HNWIs from moving abroad unlike their counterparts in countries such as China and Russia.

3. Lack of Knowledge among HNWI advisors

In the past three or four years, we have seen a growing interest among HNWIs in various residency and citizenship programs. Unfortunately, their usual financial advisors like chartered accountants, wealth managers, and lawyers have little-to-no knowledge about any of these programs.

Many HNWIs are even skeptical about the existence and authenticity of these programs and wonder if it’s an international scam. I recently met the senior partner of large and reputed client advisory firm who had no clue about investment migration and was surprised that it can be a highly beneficial investment opportunity for HNWIs.

4. Lack of familiarity with investing abroad

Until recently, Indian banks and concerned government agencies had very strict and conservative rules in place that deterred Indian professionals and businesspersons from remitting money outside of India. Hence, the entire concept of investing abroad is quite novel for most Indian HNWIs. Now, with more favorable regulations, HNWIs are showing a willingness to venture into the unknown RCBI territory.

5. Lack of knowledge about residence and citizenship by investment programs

Lack of basic knowledge about RCBI and its benefits makes HNWIs less trusting of such programs. With no one to assist them and clear their doubts, they are confused regarding the value of investment migration programs as a safe and rewarding investment.

6. Multiple obstacles related to cash transactions and liquidity

With the exception of large metros, most real estate and large financial transactions in India are carried out in a split manner to avoid taxation – around 30-35% of the real estate price is paid through bank transfer whereas 65-70% of the transaction is by cash. This creates a perennial liquidity issue for Indians who often have to struggle to show that they have the necessary financial capacity to invest abroad through official banking channels.

7. Difficulty with documents and other legalities

India does not have a nationwide social security system. Additionally, there is no credit rating system for individuals and corporates. Business is commonly conducted based on personal references. Drawing up detailed agreements and legal documents and hiring professionals to guide through the entire process is still not a common practice.

In contrast, RCBI programs involve a plethora of legal documents and other formalities that can be completed only with the help of qualified and knowledgeable professionals. Many Indian HNWIs are flummoxed when they realize how many supporting documents they need to submit with their application and the other legalities they need to complete. Gathering and compiling relevant documents is an uphill task for most of them.

8. Negative perceptions of investment migration

Indians often assume that if a wealthy person has applied for immigration, he/she must be doing so for all the wrong reasons. In recent times, several UHNWIs have fled the country in order to escape prosecution and possible jail time and taken refuge in foreign jurisdictions through investment migration programs.

The Indian media has exploited these stories extensively to generate negativity about RCBI programs, highlighting how HNWIs are taking undue advantage of these programs to avoid persecution at home and live a comfortable life elsewhere. All this undue attention has made many high profile HNWIs very cautious and secretive when they seek immigration through such schemes.

9. Lack of trust

Non-payment of invoices and private investment is widespread in India. HNWIs, as consequence, generally don’t trust foreign developers and their projects. This lack of trust – combined with the Indian mentality of investing in a foreign project where other Indians, preferably friends or relatives, are involved – has proved to be a great disadvantage for foreign developers and their projects.

There are several examples wherein many Indian-origin investors from the USA have been successful in raising millions of dollars for their debut EB-5 projects whereas some highly reputed EB-5 regional centres are still struggling to establish their presence in India.

10. The Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA):

FEMA and the regulations therein make it difficult for Indians to transfer or remit payment outside of India. Violating the law was a criminal offense in bygone years but is now just a civil offense that can result in up to 300% penalty if money is remitted without duly following the law.

The need of the hour is to work hard collectively to educate Indian HNWIs and the professionals serving them about how RCBI programs are not only about immigrating to a foreign country but much more.

Though the Indian market is slow to pick up, it is my firm belief that in the next few years, India will be a significant player in the global investment migration market.

April 15, 2019

India is one of the few emerging economic powerhouses whose HNWIs have yet to appreciate the benefits of residency and citizenship by investment (RCBI). In this article, we outline some of the major do’s and don’ts of Indian investment migration market success.

RCBI is a relatively new investment concept to most wealthy Indians. Complicating matters is that India is a very large country, its people as diverse as its landscape with multiple languages, religions, cultures, and food habits. Before even beginning to market RCBI programs in India, therefore, in-depth study and understanding of the market – and especially the Indian mindset – is essential.

7 mistakes to avoid to break through the Indian market

  1. Impatience: RCBI is not a readily grasped concept here, so try not to be impatient. It takes time for inquiries to convert into actual investment.
  2. Expecting local RCBI-agents to know what they’re talking about: India has more than 5,000 immigration agents/consultants, but their knowledge about RCBI is dismal or a bare minimum to say the least. So if you think appointing any old immigration agent in India to market your product is a sound strategy, think again. We’ve already met large international agencies that have burned their fingers trying to break into the Indian investment migration market by relying on local agents. To some, the results have been so disappointing that they’ve decided to pull out of the market altogether.
  3. Expecting HNWI advisors to do the work for you: Chartered accountants, wealth managers and lawyers who work with and for Indian HNWIs also have very basic or no knowledge about RCBI programs and its utility for Indian HNWIs.
  4. Underestimating the challenge of getting money out of India: Government regulations are not very favourable when it comes to transferring money from India to a foreign jurisdiction.
  5. Thinking most Indian HNWIs are in a rush to leave the country: India has a stable democracy and a vibrant economy. Thus, most HNWIs are not highly motivated or desperate to leave the country and acquire immigration elsewhere.
  6. Neglecting the stigma of HNWI emigration: RCBI is not well accepted socially. When wealthy Indians try to acquire residency or citizenship of another country, it is often perceived as an attempt to flee from the law, escape wrongdoing, or due to possible ostracism by the business or social community.
  7. Expecting Indian HNWIs to be open to the idea of RCBI: Indian HNWIs are quite conservative and many will not even consider the idea. Very few HNWIs have made an international investment through RCBI, so there are few examples for other HNWIs to follow. Changing these perceptions will take time.

What service providers and developers must do to successfully enter the Indian market

Consider this Rule Number One: Though they are both neighbors and economic powerhouses, India and China are by no means the same. So what works in China may not or likely will not work in India. This means, for example, that the marketing strategies that attracted thousands of investors in China may not attract a single one in India.

Case in point – One of the leading companies promoting RCBI in the world has a veritable fleet (100+) of agents working on their behalf in India. For the past few years, they’ve been conducting seminars and road shows on a regular basis but their efforts have produced virtually no results. Out of frustration, they have decided to pull out of the Indian market altogether.

This is a common experience for many foreign developers and project promoters. I’ve met several stakeholders at various events who have shared their frustrations with the Indian market. Not only foreign companies but even Indian origin developers and promoters face a roadblock when marketing their products and services to the Indian clientele.

Here are 11 pointers of things you should do to avoid the same fate:

  1. Educate: Be prepared to educate Indian HNIs regarding RCI program due to lack of awareness and knowledge.
  2. Build trust: Indians normally prefer doing business through personal references. They do not easily trust credit ratings and long drawn agreements. Trust is the main issue here. So finding a way to win the trust of Indian HNIs is imperative.
  3. Focus on selling your country, not your project: Try selling your country rather than your project Indian HNWIs. Better still, stress on the unique sales proposition (USP) of your country’s program from the Indian HNWI perspective. If the program does not appeal to their personal and economic sensibilities, Indians won’t part with their hard-earned money. Connecting with the psyche of Indian HNIs is the key – success stories of the Indian diaspora and the prominent presence and appreciation of Indian culture, food, and places of worship in your country will create a sense of welcome and belonging.
  4. Think out of the box – Create a USP for your country. Attract Indian HNWIs through trade missions, providing subsidies for shooting Bollywood movies, promoting luxury wedding destinations, etc.
  5. Don’t try to cover the whole of India in one trip. It can’t be done. Also, do not expect to close deals in the first meeting itself. It may take many meetings and follow-ups before an Indian HNI actually signs up.
  6. Find knowledgeable local representatives. Indians like working with reputed foreign service providers who have a strong presence in India. Appointing a knowledgeable and reliable agent or representative in India who protects your interests is important.
  7. Try working with one good agent rather than many mediocre ones. India is a big country but one good agent can generate more business than 10 frivolous ones.
  8. Appoint professionals as your associates; those who have good connections and professional rapport with HNWIs.
  9. Allocate a sizable budget for marketing: Newspaper advertisements, seminars, and road shows can prove to be quite expensive. Social media marketing is a good and cost-effective way of generating leads as most Indians are social media savvy.
  10. Be generous with good introducers: Don’t hesitate to seek help from local associates to convert leads into actual clients. Be generous in compensating them. This will motivate them to work harder and get more business.
  11. Find common ties: Caribbean countries can take advantage of common ties with India such as love for cricket, medical schools and the local Indian-origin population (who migrated to their countries 2-3 generations back) to attract Indian HNWIs. European countries can attract Indian HNWIs actively involved in business by showcasing the high quality of life, natural beauty and excellent opportunities for education and business across Europe.