Despite neighboring countries like St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda reaping billions in investments through its Citizenship by Investment Programmes, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves has flatly rejected the idea of implementing a Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) in his country. He opined that such an initiative would only offer superficial benefits and expressed doubts about the quality of due diligence being done in countries that offered citizenship through investment.
The Prime Minister felt that just one OECS country that had taken the lead had enjoyed the benefits of CIP and that other late entrants were unlikely to enjoy the same results. St. Kitts and Nevis has received billions into its Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation and real estate market. Property investment costs US$400,000 per applicant while the former option is cheaper costing just US$250,000 per applicant. The process is overseen and run by the Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) in the Office of the Prime Minister of the country.
Dominica’s CIP program was introduced decades ago and costs US$100,000 per single applicant. Antigua and Barbuda, a recent entrant to this club, has followed the St. Kitts and Nevis model by offering citizenship for contribution of US$250,000 to the National Development Fund and through real estate investment worth US$400,000. It also offers investors the option of investing US$1.5 million into an eligible business in case of a sole applicant. In case of joint applicants, the minimum amount rises to US $5,000,000 provided each applicant makes individual contribution of US $400,000.
St Lucia has begun the process of exploring this option and is expected to offer a CIP as well. Like other nations in the OECS, St. Vincent and the Grenadines too suffers from high debt levels, poor productivity, and susceptibility to national disasters. The country, like other nations in the region, suffers from dearth of direct foreign investment. Yet, the Prime Minister has refused to consider the option of setting up a CIP and has questioned the due diligence practices of countries offering such programs in the region.
He opined that due diligence for one or two investors seeking citizenship can be managed but a flood of applications can lead to complaints and issues. He pointed out that there have been issues about persons associated with criminal enterprises being issued citizenship under such programs.
Offering citizenship in exchange of investment is not restricted to the Caribbean region. The USA offers Green Cards to immigrants investing either US$1 million in businesses employing ten persons or more or US$500,000 in areas designated as economically depressed areas. The process is slightly longer than the CIPs of Caribbean as residency applications can be filed after two years and citizenship can be sought for after a period of five years.
Apart from the region’s famed natural beauty and visa-free travel facilities enjoyed by citizens, applicants are attracted to benefits like non-relinquishment of existing citizenship, confidentiality of information provided in the application, access to international financial institutions, protection for assets, and no prior residency requirements.