Following Canada’s decision to tighten immigration control and introduce visa requirements on travellers from St. Kitts and Nevis, there have been serious concerns relating to the security of the country’s passports. St. Kitts and Nevis runs one of the oldest citizenship by investment programs (CIP) in the world, through which funds are invested into special government approved projects or the Sugar Industry Diversification Fund.
Concerned about the possible damage that Canada’s decision will have on the reputation of St. Kitts and Nevis’ citizenship by investment program and therefore on its economy, several civil society organizations got together last week to issue a joint statement, urging the government to save the program.
“The civil society organizations listed below are extremely concerned as to the negative impact on our country generally and on its Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP), of the sudden imposition by Canada effective last Saturday 22nd November, at midday, of visa requirements on holders of St. Kitts and Nevis passports seeking to enter Canada. We are also extremely concerned about the negative impact of articles published last Friday in the Canadian mainstream media suggesting that the visa imposition by the Canadian Government resulted from the association of some St. Kitts and Nevis nationals with terrorism and organized crime. The articles also quoted Canadian Government sources as saying that citizens of St. Kitts and Nevis who would not otherwise be eligible to enter Canada for security reasons have changed their names after receiving our citizenship and taken the opportunity to sneak into Canada. Those articles do not put our country in a good light. The language used in them is derogatory,” read the statement.
The joint statement was issued by St. Kitts Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce, St. Kitts Christian Council, St. Kitts Evangelical Association, St. Kitts Nevis Hotel and Tourism Association, and St. Kitts and Nevis Small Business Forum.
The statement noted that while Canada had imposed visa restrictions for St. Kitts and Nevis, many of the countries’ neighbors were allowed visa-free entry. These included Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, Bahamas, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands and Cayman Islands. This, they argue, can especially be detrimental to the reputation of St. Kitts and Nevis as the visa imposition was clearly not a general one and that there were “circumstances peculiar to St. Kitts and Nevis which led the Canadian Government to make that decision”. Moreover the statement also pointed out that Antigua and Barbuda had recently started their own citizenship by investment program and as direct competitors of St Kitts, would now benefit from this incident.
There has been speculation that Canada’s decision might have been influenced by the case of an Iranian national who had travelled to Canada holding a diplomatic passport issued by St. Kitts and Nevis. The Iranian national had claimed that he was visiting Canada to attend meetings with the Canadian Prime Minister. However upon investigation these claims proved to be false, leading to security concerns among the Canadian officials.
In the statement, the CSOs referred to this incident and blamed the government for evading the issue. “We are aware of an incident reported last year in the international media of the attempted use by one of our new citizens of a St. Kitts and Nevis diplomatic passport to enter Canada ostensibly to meet with the Canadian Prime Minister. We do not know what else may have led the Canadian Government to impose visa requirements on our passport holders, however, we do not expect that a country as friendly as Canada has been to our country over the years would have taken such decision lightly,” read the statement.
This incident was also followed by an advisory from the US government issued in May this year, with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network issuing a warning that the citizenship by investment program (CIP) offered by St Kitts and Nevis was being abused by foreigners to engage in illicit financial activities. The CSO statement referred to this advisory and said that they were concerned that these events may lead to the destruction of CIP in St. Kitts and Nevis, as foreign governments’ mistrust of the program seems to be increasing. For instance if the UK imposed such a visa, then CIP would lose all its appeal, the statement said.
The CSOs also said that they support the CIP in principle and did not wish to bring embarrassment to their country by highlighting this issue, however, they realize that their country will not survive being ostracized and so the government should take proactive steps to improve the reputation of CIP and “show the world that it is a genuine and transparent program and adequately sheltered from abuse.”
The statement issued by the civil society organizations concluded with the following recommendations for the St. Kitts government:
- Government should immediately publish the number of citizenships granted to date and on a year by year basis since 1984 when the CIP was introduced;
- The Sugar Industry Diversification Fund (SIDF) should as soon as reasonably possible publish updated and audited accounts. The last accounts published by SIDF were for 2011;
- SIDF should publish quarterly details of its disbursement of funds and the purposes;
- The investment qualification process should be made more rigid to deter abuse and to ensure that there is minimum leakage out of the monies provided by applicants to the program for qualifying investments;
- Immediate action should be taken to end the delays and suggestions of favoritism which are rife in relation to the operations of the Citizenship by Investment Unit which processes citizenship applications. The processing of applications should be outsourced to a reputable and experienced entity;
- Government should immediately publish the names and diplomatic appointments of all citizens by investment who hold St. Kitts and Nevis diplomatic passports;
- Government should immediately publish its policy on the issue of diplomatic passports. We note that the Canadian visa requirement applies to the holders of diplomatic passports except for diplomats actually accredited to Canada, of whom there are very few;
- We also urge those nationals who are not diplomats as per accepted international practice but who have received diplomatic passports for ease of travel to give them up. We know some such persons who make no secret of the fact; and
- Government should change the law to require any person who obtained citizenship under the CIP to show good cause to a Court to be allowed to change his or her name.