An increasing number of Arab nationals are seeking to settle in other countries through investment programs, mostly because of unrest spreading throughout the Middle East, with the region sinking further into political turmoil. The chaos caused by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and now in Libya as well, is a cause of great concern to citizens of Arab countries, and is leading to numerous financial advisors, brokers and legal consultancies to facilitate the migration out of Arab countries.
For investor immigrants, the ideal status they can achieve is citizenship that also offers visa-free global mobility, which is something available to them in the Caribbean where four investment schemes are on offer that would allow Arabs and other nationalities to break free from the travel restrictions imposed upon them by their existing passports.
In Antigua and Barbuda, immigrant investors are given passports that allow visa-free access to 131 countries once they make a $200,000 donation into the country’s national development fund. The whole application process typically takes just a couple of months.
While such schemes vary in the amount of investment required, from $100,000 in the Caribbean island of Dominica up to millions of dollars in other western countries, the number of countries introducing investment citizenship schemes is increasing by the day as demand for them increases.
Immigration experts are seeing thousands of Iraqis, Syrians, and Egyptians applying for these citizenship and residency programs. According to Micha Rose-Emmett of CS Global Partners, the surge in applications was foreseen. “The Arab Spring had an effect on the citizenship by investment and investor immigration markets as more businessmen and families realized the importance of having the freedom to move in the event that there was an unfortunate turn in the economic and political situation in their countries,” she says.
Legal firms in the UAE are receiving double the number of applications from over a year ago, and as a result UAE property firms are trying to capitalize on the demand by investing in property in the Caribbean that allow applicants to qualify for citizenship.
One such project is the $150 million Park Hyatt hotel in St Kitts and Nevis, in which applicants can invest $430,000 to gain citizenship, while a similar $200 million property is being developed in Antigua.
These citizenship by investment schemes are being adopted in the Caribbean as a way of boosting local economies, creating jobs and reducing government debt. The IMF reported that St Kitts and Nevis reduced its debt to 104 per cent of GDP, down from 164 per cent, mainly due to its investor citizenship program.
The Caribbean’s success in tackling their economic crises has resulted in several European countries following the same approach to tackle their own woes. Most notable are Malta and Cyprus, who both currently offer EU passports in exchange for investment. Other European countries such as Bulgaria and Hungry offer long-term residence permits rather than full citizenship, though their investment requirement is a lot lower.
But there is also a growing backlash against these investment immigration programs, mainly due to reports of lax background checks, corruption in the administration of these schemes, and misuse of passports. As a result, some western countries are scaling back their own investment by citizenship programs while at the same time increasing the visa requirements of passport holders of countries offering such programs.
One example is Canada, which recently introduced visa requirements for St Kitts and Nevis passport holders after reports of misuse of their passport scheme by individuals with links to terrorism and organized crime. Canada’s move has apparently reduced demand for the St Kitts and Nevis passport scheme.
International citizenship consultants Henley & Partners insist that they respect international sanctions and laws and conduct stringent background checks and due diligence on their applicants. The firm has seen the number of applications more than double since the start of the Arab spring.
Investment immigrations schemes are currently seeing rapid growth, but if borders are shut due to concerns over national security and economic benefit, the industry boom may prove to be short lived.
“Programs are changing. Big countries like Australia and the UK believe the economic impact does not justify their existence,” says Mr Arton.
But as things stand, Caribbean nations are welcoming people who can pay for their place in the sun.