Editors' pick: Originally published May 25.
One of the quickest ways for a spy film to show off its credentials is with the drawer full of passports. It's a reveal that has been used to great effect from the outstanding Bourne films to NBC's execrable "Blacklist," that moment when a pile of multicolored books all come tumbling out bearing the same photograph under different names.
Well, Hollywood can start looking for a new trope. You may have to use your real name, but it turns out the civilian passport market is very real, and even booming.
One of the odder commodities for sale today, economic citizenship is the practice of buying the right to new passports through foreign investment. According to Thomas Liepman, director of sales for the real estate firm Christophe Harbour, it's a popular option for a growing number of people around the world who pick up second or even third citizenships, frequently from sun-soaked islands like Antigua or Malta. Investors who buy property, or start businesses will frequently take citizenship as a means of helping to safeguard their assets, while others may seek expanded flexibility that their current citizenship doesn't offer.
It's a big market. Some estimates place the value as high as $2 billion annually.
Many countries, typically smaller, cash-strapped nations, use it as a way to boost foreign investment, offering citizenship as a way to inject cash into their economies and, hopefully, entice wealthy residents.
And wealth is one of the few unifying features of this market. Prices are high, typically in the mid-six figures with the cheapest generally considered to be the Dominican Republic, which offers citizenship for $100,000 plus fees.
In exchange, the investor gets to claim all of the rights and privileges of a citizen, including tax benefits and travel. According to writer Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, it's the right to travel that drives much of this market. While Americans enjoy relative ease of travel with one of the world's most powerful passports, the residents of many other nations aren't so lucky. Those from more repressive or unpopular nations generally seek the relative freedom that comes from less-encumbered travel documents.
It's often, she said, about shaking a "bad passport."
"Basically a bad passport is one that will not allow you to travel throughout the world without a visa," Abrahamian said. "For example, you can't really go a lot of places with a Libyan passport."
Abrahamian, whose recent book The Cosmopolites chronicles her study of this market, also found a strain of what she phrased as something between caution and paranoia among people shopping for their second or third passports.
"They're definitely not optimistic about the state of the world," she said. "A lot of passport acquisitions are motivated by fear, mistrust and wariness."
For the wealthy coming out of less stable countries, this can often serve as an escape hatch or a Plan B, a means of escape if things get ugly back home without having to become refugees. Flight from a country in political turmoil can be diplomatically difficult, as all of a sudden that nation's passport becomes suspect. That's when it's helpful to have the backing of someplace like Cyprus, or the right to land there without fear. Purchasers of citizenship are essentially buying their right to a political safe haven.
"There's not," Abrahamian added, "going to be a coup d'état in Antigua any time soon."
While the market for citizenship is booming around the world, Americans are often conspicuously absent. Part of this is because of a highly unusual quirk in U.S. tax law.
While right-of-travel drives the quest for citizenship from countries such as Russia and those in East Asia, as the Panama Papers recently laid bare, many (including Europeans) seek out these havens as a chance to shed burdensome income taxes at home. This works, because many countries give credit for taxes paid abroad or only require income taxes for residents currently in the country.
America doesn't allow for this, requiring income taxes of its citizens wherever they happen to be on the face of the planet (certain deductions notwithstanding). As a result it's far less profitable to seek a tax haven through second citizenship. The IRS will come for you anyway... unless, of course, you renounce your citizenship.
Yet nevertheless recent years have begun to see an uptick even in American interest in the citizenship market. So much so, in fact, that Liepman described U.S. citizens as currently the most common applicants seeking citizenship through his St. Kitts-based firm.
For Americans, he said, it's "a hedge."
"I think they really look at it as an option, or as a what-if," Leipman said. "We see few clients ever use the passport, it's really just a value-add that if you are going to invest and have a second home it's nice to have the citizenship."
One particular pattern has become clear, however.
"Each election cycle, we've certainly seen an uptick interest," Leipman said. "This one is unique because we've seen an uptick in interest regardless of what side of the aisle you sit on."
And he has a point. As an exit strategy for the die-hards willing to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in fleeing the rule of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, St. Kitts would be far nicer than the flights that many Americans threaten every four years. Warmer than Canada, and with fewer political concerns than many pockets of South America, an island paradise would certainly be one option for whiling away the opposition's administration.
For many people, that's apparently more than just hypothetical.
St. Kitts's economic citizenship package is a fairly typical format. The island offers two options: either giving money directly to a government-run charity or investing in a qualifying real estate project. There, the prices are $200,000 and $400,000, respectively, but they vary worldwide.
Many in the United States see dual citizenship with an air of impropriety, something only criminals (or spies) would use. In part, that may be because of the limited value it has to Americans. Yet those involved with the market say that it's much more about the meaning of citizenship and often conveys real value to expatriates and certain kinds of travelers.
"I think there's this idea that having multiple nationalities is about having multiple loyalties, and I think that's a Cold War kind of view," Abrahamian said.
"It's what I referred to as Catholic guilt growing up," echoed Liepman.
The guilt is not, however, all that widespread. While America may not have an outright economic citizenship program, it does offer the so-called Millionaire Visa, a residency permit based on investment.
Whether expatriates or long-term travelers, refugees or the wealthy with an abundance of caution, there is a global market for citizenship that crosses borders. Several countries have begun to take advantage of its promise.