Citizenship By Investment Programs Discounted Following Hurricane Devastation
The integrity of citizenship by investment programs are being called into question as Caribbean nations court investors by dramatically cutting the cost of their citizenship.
Citizenship by investment is a program where full citizenship can be acquired in exchange for an economic contribution. Foreign investors are granted citizenships either in exchange for a one-off contribution to the nation, or an investment in a designated sector, for example, real estate. Only the investors who have successfully undergone the necessary background checks and due diligence procedures are granted citizenship.
There are five Caribbean nations that offer this programme at the moment:
- St. Kitts and Nevis (1984),
- Dominica (1993),
- Grenada (2013),
- Antigua & Barbuda (2013) and
- St. Lucia (2015).
Many of these nations’ passports allow for visa-free travel to the European Union and even, China.
During last years’ Hurricane Season, June through November, a slew of catastrophic hurricanes, namely Harvey, Maria and Irma, tore through the Caribbean region ravaging multiple islands, several where a citizenship-by-investment programme is an available option.
In September 2017, a few changes were made to the initial cost of these citizenships:-
- St. Kitts & Nevis implemented a “Hurricane Relief Fund”, allowing foreign investors to contribute $150, 000 USD in exchange for citizenship. Available until March 2018, this 6-month long discount on citizenship is approximately $100, 000 USD cheaper than the islands’ previous rate.
- Subsequently, Antigua and Barbuda halved their price, selling citizenship for $100, 000 USD.
- According to Henley and Partners, a consultancy firm specializing in citizenship and residency-by-investment programs, Grenada too, has lowered the price of one of their routes to gaining citizenship.
- However, both Dominica and St. Lucia’s price remains at $100, 000 USD per single applicant.
The devastation to these islands by the hurricanes has been extreme, leaving some uninhabitable, for example, Barbuda. Without a doubt, there is an immeasurable pressure to provide funds for hurricane relief to these islands. Sanders, an Antigua and Barbuda diplomat acknowledged that citizenship by investment programs account for 20 percent of Antigua and Barbuda’s GDP. He noted that without the discounted fee for citizenship, the island would be depriving themselves of necessary revenue as they do not have the money to rebuild with the speed the residents would like. While the integrity of these programs is under fire for the potential of being abused, Sanders, the Antigua and Barbuda diplomat has criticized St. Kitts and Nevis’ decision to discount the cost of citizenship, however, he claimed that his country had little choice but to do so.
Some experts have expressed concerns and highlighted the following vulnerabilities of the citizenship by investment programs. The experts suggest that this scramble could make authorities more inclined to approve applicants, cut corners and carry out laxer vetting processes, making citizenship readily available to more people who shouldn’t have it.
These concerns have arisen from a previous scandal in 2014 involving three Iranian-born individuals who bought St. Kitts & Nevis citizenship to evade sanctions and invest in the United States. St. Kitts and Nevis were pressured to recall hundreds of passports as these travel documents did not meet the necessary requirements and allowed for the possibility of passport holders to create a new identity. Following this scandal, Canada later revoked St. Kitts and Nevis from acquiring visa-free entry to the country.
Although no official statement was given from the St. Kitts and Nevis government, the recent promotional material for the Hurricane Relief Program states that the nation “adhered to the due diligence parameters and ensured that only applicants with the highest moral character need apply.”