Building Bridges

A group of global investors think they can minimise the plight of thousands of refugee immigrants by taxing wealthy Global Citizens

A group of wealthy global investors who are at the core of the global residence and citizenship industry think they have found a solution that could ease the plight of the thousands of migrant refugees risking their lives daily in an attempt to get to Europe.

The immigrant investment industry is worth $10 billion annually — with Europe receiving more than half in foreign direct investment through immigrant investment programmes. Some of the people who have benefitted from it —whether by marketing immigrant investor programmes or the high net worth individuals who spend millions of dollars investing in a second residency and citizenship — say they have a responsibility “to offer a helping hand” to refugees in third world economies.

“The idea is to impose a levy on a sliding scale between 1% and 5% on those wealthy individuals who invest in immigrant investor programmes like an EU government tax, with the proceeds going into a fund that will hopefully raise €1 billion [$1.1 billion] over the next five years to support refugees,” says Armand Arton, CEO of Arton Capital and the driving force behind the self-dubbed global citizen tax.

“Global citizens understand and cherish the meaning of freedom, even if some do not originate from countries in political and economic distress. They know that giving back to society is what seals the collective consciousness of our global citizen community,” says Arton.

Even if high net worth migrants barely represent one per cent of the total worldwide migration flow, Arton thinks they have the capacity to make a “real and tangible difference” to the lives of refugees.

“We want to build a meaningful bridge between those who have much and those who have so little but share the same dream of global citizenship. Indeed, it would be yet another testament to the power of migration and to its capacity to provide transformative change,” he says.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the number of people seeking refugee status has continued to climb since last year, with a sharp increase of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean. A recent report by the UNHCR notes the “combined number of refugees and internally displaced persons protected/assisted by UNHCR in 2014 increased by 11 million persons, reaching a record high of 46.7 million persons by year end”.

In addition, the number of people who have died at sea while trying to flee are devastating, amounting to an estimated 6,570 people since 2011, half of which were women and children. Although international organisations continue to mobilise efforts and resources to fight the problem, there does not appear to be an end in sight.

“In Europe and across the globe where other investor programmes operate, we believe responsibilities and benefits should be shared,” says Arton.

“Our clients are dynamic people. They are successful, powerful and have created great wealth and economic opportunities for others. This is why we are confident they are in a position to share the same vision of a better life for those who are imprisoned by their status as a refugee.”

The Canadian chief executive who also hails from a multi- ethnic background hopes to receive support for his refugee support levy from the European Parliament and UN agencies and has proposed a pilot programme to be introduced in parliament for all EU member countries which currently offer immigrant investor programmes to adhere to. As part of his proposal, all funds from this levy would be channelled to EU or international institutions dealing directly with refugees from north Africa.

“Our preliminary estimates indicate this levy could raise in excess of €250 million [$277 million] over the next 18 months,” he says.

“As a comparison, the 2015 budget the UN allocated for its refugee operations in northern, western, central and southern Europe is $64 million so our collective efforts could be hugely significant and helpful to agencies working with the multitude of those displaced.”

Arton will be discussing his initiative and laying out the plans in more detail at the annual Global Citizen Forum with guest speakers including Kofi Annan, held in Monaco on October 8-9, 2015.