Citizenship, Debt and the Caribbean


David Jessup writes that governments in North America and Europe are beginning to look more closely at citizenship for investment schemes and who is acquiring passports.

Although much of the media have confused the illegal issue of diplomatic or regular passports with those provided under legal citizenship by investment programmes that many nations operate, it is clear that the whole question of being able, in one or another way, to offer citizenship without a residence requirement is coming under increasing international scrutiny; with the real danger being that ordinary citizens may come to face blanket requirements for visas where none previously existed. Citizenship for investment schemes, of which there are globally very many on offer, provide passports in return for payments or investments of between US$0.1m and US$1m and requirements that range from the challenging to the simple or non-existent regarding residence.

Among those most interested in such provisions are newly wealthy Chinese entrepreneurs whose interest in holding alternative citizenship, or residing elsewhere, relates to unspoken concerns about their Government’s anti-corruption drive, personal freedom, or seeking a location that provides an international education for their children.

[. . .] Wealthy Russians too have an interest in relocating as do a growing number of wealthy citizens from the Middle East, the former Soviet Republics and Africa unsettled by instability and war, and US entrepreneurs who want to escape the US’s ever widening tax net. [. . .] The latest nation to attract attention is Malta, a full member of European Union where its government recently announced a scheme that in effect sells citizenship of the EU in the form of a Maltese passport.

[. . .] In the Caribbean, the revenue raising potential such schemes have understandably become of particular interest to some of the region’s smaller heavily indebted nations. Earlier this month Grenada became the latest Government to announce a citizenship programme as one of a number of decisions to try to put the nation’s fiscal house in order. In his budget address the Prime Minister, Keith Mitchell, announced that he will bring before parliament in early 2014 a new citizenship by investment programme tailored to Grenada’s needs, which will, he said, take great care to attract clean and credible investors.

[. . .] Antigua has a similar a scheme, as do Dominica and St Kitts-Nevis which offer investment variations on citizenship without a residency requirement. More recently, British overseas territories have been told by London they may only consider programmes for residence as long as there is no guarantee of citizenship. In contrast, St Vincent has said that it will not follow other OECS nations.

Speaking about this in August, the islands’ Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, said “I know what the downsides are, and I insist that the highest office in the land is that of citizen and it is not for sale…. the passport is the outward sign of the inward grace of citizenship and it is not for sale either”. Mr Gonsalves said that instead he preferred to see citizenship garmented to those who “come in and they invest and later on” [become citizens].

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