Category Archives: Citizenship

Have Caribbean Citizenship by Investment Programmes Run Their Course?

Alicia Nicholls

Caribbean Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programmes, and to a lesser but growing extent, residence by investment (RBI) programmes, are facing a rough ride. The latest blow came when the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) deemed CBI/RBI programmes operated by 21 jurisdictions, including those in the Caribbean, as “high risk to the integrity of the Common Reporting Standard”. While the OECD has clarified that this was not a blacklist, the list puts another glaring spotlight on Caribbean CBI/RBI programmes which are already battling to justify their existence to an increasing choir of skeptics.  In October, the European Union (EU) released a report analysing the state of play, issues and impacts of its own members’ programmes. With the mounting scrutiny being placed on Caribbean countries’ CBI/RBI programmes and stiffened competition from other investment migration programmes globally, have Caribbean countries’ CBI programmes run their course?

What are CBI Programmes?

CBI programmes are one of the two main types of investment migration programme – programmes which offer high net worth (HNW) investors accelerated citizenship or residence of the host country in exchange for a pecuniary contribution. Unlike RBI programmes which only confer accelerated permanent residence status, CBI programmes grant a qualifying investor, upon making a specified economic contribution to the host country (usually in real estate, investment in a business or in a specified government fund), accelerated citizenship for himself/herself and his/her qualifying spouse and/or dependents, once all relevant fees are paid and due diligence requirements are met. It means that a person can acquire citizenship or residence of another country in just a few months, compared to several years under regular naturalisation procedures.

Five Caribbean countries currently operate CBI programmes: St. Kitts & Nevis (the world’s oldest CBI programme), Dominica, Grenada, Antigua & Barbuda and St. Lucia. International examples include the EU member states of Austria, Cyprus and Malta, and the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

Second citizenship is a booming international industry reportedly worth US $3 billion, according to Citizenship by Investment.ch. There are now over one hundred CBI/RBI programmes worldwide, which seek to lure an expanding and highly mobile class of global High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) seeking the advantages a more favourable second passport could bring for themselves and their families. These advantages include greater mobility and security, tax planning advantages, and business opportunities.

The British Overseas Territory of Anguilla is the most recent Caribbean jurisdiction to commence a RBI programme, but versions of these programmes are also operated in the Bahamas, Barbados, Montserrat and Turks & Caicos, for example. Examples of RBI programmes in developed countries include the United States’ EB-5 programme and the United Kingdom’s Tier 1 Visa.

Challenges to Caribbean CBI/RBI programmes

Those Caribbean countries which operate them view these programmes as a pathway for economic diversification and development, bringing greatly needed foreign exchange and foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows, infrastructure development, and employment opportunities. In its Article IV Report on Dominica, which had been badly affected by category five Hurricane Maria in September 2017, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) noted that “fiscal performance deteriorated sharply due to the fall in tax revenue after the hurricane, but was partially offset by a surge in grants and buoyant Citizenship-by-Investment (CBI) sales revenues.”

Despite their economic benefits, CBI programmes have always been controversial due to some governments’ philosophical aversion to what many have called the “commodification of citizenship” or “selling of passports”. Indeed, CARICOM Member States remain philosophically divided on the desirability of CBI programmes.

There have also been, in some cases, legitimate concerns about the efficacy of the due diligence procedures, the perceived absence of a ‘genuine link’ between recipients of citizenship under CBI programmes and the host country, and reports of alleged instances of misuse of passports obtained under CBI programmes, which have brought increased international scrutiny of Caribbean countries’ CBI programmes.

One of the pull factors of Caribbean countries’ CBI programmes is the visa free access. For example, on the Henley & Partners Passport Index published by the world’s leading investment migration firm, Henley & Partners, St. Kitts and Nevis ranked the highest among Caribbean CBI countries in the strength of its passport,  providing visa-free access to 151 countries. Unfortunately, this advantage may be undermined if third countries, as is their right, decide to revoke visa-free access to citizens originating from countries offering CBI programmes, due to national security concerns. For example, Canada imposed visa requirements for citizens from St. Kitts & Nevis in 2014 and from Antigua & Barbuda in 2017 over similar concerns. Both countries have subsequently made changes to their programmes, but their citizens have not yet regained visa-free access to Canada.

The US Government has also repeatedly flagged Caribbean CBI programmes as possibly being used for financial crime, including in its International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2017. With the current US administration taking an even tougher stance on national security,  US scrutiny of Caribbean CBI programmes is likely to continue or even intensify.

The European Commission has already sounded the alarm about the potential security risks that golden passport programmes operated by its own members could pose to the bloc. It reiterated this in its recently released report on those programmes operated in the EU.  But this scrutiny is not limited to EU CBI/RBI programmes. In a recently released report, global NGOs, Transparency International and Global Witness, also recently called on the EU to review its visa waiver schemes with those Caribbean countries operating CBI programmes.

In light of this scrutiny, other CARICOM Member States which do not operate programmes have feared that they themselves may suffer reputational and security risks due to the CBI programmes of other Member States. The CARICOM Secretariat has been examining the issue of CBI programmes operated by member states, but there appears to be no public information on what have been the outcomes of this examination thus far.

The other risk comes from increased global competition. The list of countries offering some kind of CBI or RBI programme has grown exponentially in the years since the global economic and financial crisis. For instance, this year Moldova started its own CBI. Moreover, while St. Vincent & the Grenadines is currently the only independent member of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) to not offer a CBI programme due to the current government’s philosophical opposition to these programmes, the leader of St. Vincent & the Grenadines’ opposition party recently reaffirmed his support for launching a CBI programme there. What this shows is that countries around the world still see the economic potential of these programmes and it also means that competition is increasing.

Caribbean countries’ CBI programmes have ranked high on the Professional Wealth Management (PWM) Index. Regrettably, the increased competition between Caribbean CBI programmes both inter se and with other CBI programmes internationally has led to an apparent ‘race to the bottom’ among Caribbean CBI programmes in the form of price competition.

The OECD Challenge to CBI/RBI programmes

In early 2018, the OECD announced that it was examining CBI/RBI programmes as part of its Common Reporting Standard (CRS) loophole strategy and requested public input into the misuse of these programmes and effective ways of preventing abuse. The CRS is an information standard approved by the OECD Council in 2014 for the automatic exchange of tax information among tax authorities of countries which are signatories. CRS jurisdictions are required to obtain certain financial account information of their tax residents from their financial institutions and automatically share this information with other CRS jurisdictions on an annual basis. Most Caribbean IFCs are early adopters of the CRS.

While noting that CBI/RBI programmes may have legitimate uses, the OECD stated that CBI/RBI programmes are a risk to the CRS because they can be misused by persons to hide their assets offshore and because the documentation (such as ID cards) obtained through these programmes could be used to misrepresent an individual’s jurisdiction of tax residence. This, the OECD noted, could occur when persons fail to report all the jurisdictions in which they are resident for tax purposes.

In April 2018, the OECD published a compilation of the responses it had received, which also included responses by countries in the Caribbean offering CBI programmes. In its list of ‘high risk CBI/RBI” programmes to the integrity of the CRS” published in October 2018,  the OECD focused on those CBI/RBI programmes which gave access to a lower personal income tax rate on offshore financial assets and those which did not require an individual to spend a significant amount of time in the host jurisdiction.

It should be noted that reporting for CRS purposes is based on tax residence and that just because an investor has obtained citizenship of a country under a CBI programme, does not mean that he or she is automatically deemed to be a tax resident of the country. For example, a person may obtain St Lucian citizenship under St. Lucia’s CBI programme pursuant to the Citizenship by Investment Act and regulations, but under the St. Lucia Income Tax Act, he or she is only deemed to be resident for income tax purposes in St. Lucia for a given income year if he/she has been physically present there for not less than 183 days in that income year.

While the OECD has clarified that the list of ‘high risk CBI/RBI programmes’ was not a blacklist, there is concern about what reputational impact this list may have on the countries whose programmes were named. Financial institutions have been told by the OECD to bear in mind its analysis of high-risk CBI/RBI schemes when performing their CRS due diligence, which potentially brings increased scrutiny for Caribbean countries, which are already suffering the loss of correspondent banking relationships due to de-risking practices by risk-averse global banks.

Have CBI programmes run their course?

Given the growing array of challenges outlined, have CBI programmes run their course? While I do not think Caribbean CBI programmes have run their course, I think that there needs to be strong consideration by each of the countries concerned, and their citizens, of whether the economic benefits justify the increasing reputational and security risks, and to consider what further changes could be made to make their programmes more sustainable.

Caribbean countries are well aware that it is not in their interest for their CBI/RBI programmes to be perceived as loopholes for tax evasion or other criminal activity. It is, therefore, in their interest to work with the OECD to address the concerns raised about the potential for misuse of their CBI programmes.

According to the communique released at the 66th Meeting of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Authority, that organisation’s highest body, it was noted  as follows:

“The Heads engaged in extensive discussions on the matter, noting the unreasonableness of the OECD position, and resolved to undertake comprehensive reviews of the respective CBI and RBI Programmes to ensure that areas where they may be limitations are identified and strengthened.”

This is a promising development and it is hoped that these reviews will be conducted in a timely manner, that the results will be made public in the spirit of transparency and that the recommendations made will be implemented.

To their credit, there already exists cooperation among the Citizenship by Investment Units or equivalents of the Caribbean CIP countries through the Association of the Citizenship By Investment (CIPA). They have also been receiving the assistance of  the Joint Regional Control Centre arm of the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS).

There is the real risk that countries may become overly dependent on CBI programme revenues for their fiscal and macroeconomic stability during boom times, leaving them vulnerable during periods of leaner revenue inflows. Since 2010, revenues from its programme have buoyed St. Kitts & Nevis’ economy, but the IMF in its Article IV Report of 2017 warned that “ the recent slowdown in CBI-related inflows and the ending of the five-year holding period for CBI properties call for close monitoring of the implications for the financial sector through the real estate market and banks’ exposure to real-estate-related activities.”

On a broader note, a comprehensive study of the economic contribution these CBI programmes have made and are making to the economies and societies of these Caribbean countries is recommended. This would provide empirical evidence of whether the macroeconomic benefits outweigh the reputational and national security risks. In this regard, the recent EU study on its own programmes could provide a good model for CARICOM or the OECS in terms of analysing the state of play and the impacts of Caribbean countries’ CBI/RBI programmes and making recommendations for mitigating the risks identified.

Such a study will require sound data. This brings me to another problem with these programmes – the transparency deficit, which was also highlighted by Transparency International and Global Witness in their report. Obtaining data on these programmes remains regrettably difficult due to the unfortunate reluctance by some authorities to share data publicly, even with researchers. Though some data on the macroeconomic contribution of these programmes may be obtained from those countries’ IMF Article IV reports, other data, such as employment generated by these programmes, are not.

Making data on these programmes publicly available will not only negate the perceived opacity of these programmes’ operation, but facilitate evidence-based planning, monitoring and evaluation of these programmes.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Advertisements

Caribbean Citizenship/Residence by Investment Programmes among those deemed “high risk” by OECD

Alicia Nicholls

UPDATED: The OECD has indicated that the list is not a blacklist.

A new threat to Caribbean countries’ citizenship and residency by investment programmes (CBI/RBI programmes) has emerged. Today the Paris-based think tank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a ‘black list’ of sorts of CBI and RBI programmes that “potentially pose a high-risk to the integrity of the Common Reporting Standard”.

What are CBI/RBI programmes?

Citizenship by investment programmes and residence by investment programmes provide citizenship (in the case of the former) or residency (in the case of the latter) to an investor (and often his or her dependents) in exchange for that investor making a significant investment in the host country, subject to that jurisdiction’s eligibility criteria.

St. Kitts & Nevis operates the oldest CBI programme in the world. As part of their efforts to diversify and attract much needed foreign direct investment, four other Caribbean countries (Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica Grenada and St. Lucia) have since adopted their own programmes.  The British Overseas Territory of Anguilla has also recently established an RBI programme. Outside of the Caribbean, there is now an ever-growing list of CBI or RBI programmes operated across the world.

OECD’s examination of CBI/RBI programmes

Earlier this year, the OECD announced that it would be examining the prevention of abuse of these programmes to circumvent the Common Reporting Standard (CRS).

Nicknamed Global FATCA because it was inspired by the US’ Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), the CRS is an information standard approved by the OECD Council in 2014 for the automatic exchange of information among tax authorities. CRS jurisdictions are required to obtain certain financial account information from their financial institutions and automatically share this information with other CRS jurisdictions on an annual basis.

The OECD has argued that CBI/RBI programmes are a risk to the CRS because they can be misused by persons to hide their assets offshore and because the documentation (such as ID cards) obtained through these programmes could be used to misrepresent an individual’s jurisdiction of tax residence.

The OECD used two vague criteria to determine whether a CBI/RBI programme was high risk to the CRS: (1) it gives access to a lower personal income tax rate on offshore financial assets and (2) it does not require an individual to spend a significant amount of time in the host jurisdiction.

Out of the 100 CBI/RBI programmes the OECD analysed, programmes from the following twenty-one jurisdictions were identified as high risk: Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Colombia, Cyprus, Dominica, Grenada, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Monaco, Montserrat, Panama, Qatar, Saint Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, Seychelles, Turks and Caicos, United Arab Emirates and Vanautu.

Caribbean Programmes Identified as ‘High Risk’

The following Caribbean CBI and RBI programmes were identified:

OECDCaribbeanCBIRBI

As a result, the OECD requires that financial institutions “take the outcome of the OECD’s analysis of high-risk CBI/RBI schemes into account when performing their CRS due diligence obligations”.

Why is this development of concern to the Caribbean?

This development is of concern to Caribbean countries which operate these programmes for several reasons. Firstly, it adds to the reputational backlash which Caribbean CBI  programmes have been facing, with implications for these programmes’ attractiveness to investors.  Caribbean CBI programmes are already facing competition not only inter se, but with other programmes around the world, including those in Europe which offer the prospect of free movement within the EU.

Secondly, this seeming blacklist, which is based on vague criteria, casts an unfair shadow on those countries which operate these programmes and may affect their attractiveness as jurisdictions for international business. Moreover, those countries which operate only RBI programmes , which have much less reputational risk, have also been painted with the same brush.

Thirdly, a reduction in CIP revenues would have an adverse economic impact on those countries which have come to depend on these revenues for their macroeconomic stability.

The results of the OECD’s analysis may be found here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Golding Commission concerned about Caribbean Citizenship by Investment Programmes

Alicia Nicholls

The CARICOM Review Commission, whose report was tabled in the Jamaica Parliament last week, has expressed concern about the administration of Citizenship by Investment programmes (CIPs) currently operated by five CARICOM Member States, and has called for the establishment of a CARICOM framework agreement on their operation.

CIPs were among the many diverse issues examined by the Commission whose mandate was to review Jamaica’s relations within CARICOM and CARIFORUM. CIPs are currently operated by five CARICOM Member States: namely, Antigua & Barbuda,  Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts & Nevis and St. Lucia, and have been the subject of much scrutiny regionally and internationally.

Though recognising the economic importance of CIPs to these countries, the Commission, chaired by former Jamaica Prime Minister Bruce Golding, raised several issues with their current administration:

  • The programmes are driven more by short-term revenue benefits than long term investment gains
  • The lack of a minimum period of residency
  • The lack of a regional agreement on the operation of such programmes, especially given the national security and other implications for non-CIP operating CARICOM territories
  • While referrals to the CARICOM Implementing Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) are made, the State is not obligated to accept the advice of IMPACS
  • Concerns raised by third States (namely the US and Canada) about Caribbean CIPs and the fact that two CIP-operating Member States (St. Kitts & Nevis and Antigua & Barbuda) have already lost visa-free access to Canada due to these concerns
  • Cases of persons granted citizenship under these programmes who were later found to be less than savoury characters
  • The risks to the Community in light of ever more sophisticated trans-national crime
  • The alleged issuance of diplomatic passports to some new citizens
  • Varying due diligence procedures used by CIP-operating Member States

As such, one of the thirty-three recommendations made by the Commission in its Report is for the establishment of “an agreed framework with appropriate protocols and safeguards regarding the terms, conditions, qualifications and restrictions in relation to the operation of Citizenship by Investment programmes including prior consultations or sharing of information with other Member States”.

The full report of the Golding Commission may be viewed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

 

How can Caribbean CIPs survive increased global and regional competition and scrutiny?

Alicia Nicholls

Citizenship by investment programmes (CIPs) operated by five Caribbean small island developing States have been receiving increased international competition and scrutiny, with some arguing that a veritable “race to the bottom” has begun. Indeed, these programmes face increased competition not just inter se, but globally as more countries worldwide are turning to citizenship or residency programmes for attracting much needed investment.

The CIP-operating countries in the Caribbean are currently St. Kitts & Nevis (the world’s longest running), Dominica, Grenada, Antigua & Barbuda and most recently, St. Lucia. As all five of these countries are part of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), investors who obtain citizenship under one of these countries’ CIPs are also entitled to the freedom of movement privileges under the CSME, which has caused legitimate national security concern in some non-CIP operating CARICOM countries.

  1. Eliminate price as a factor

Although Caribbean CIPs are already the most affordable in the world, there are irrefutable signs of increased price competition among Caribbean CIPs.  In January of this year, St. Lucia amended its regulations to, inter alia, reduce the minimum qualifying investment to US$ 100,000 to the National Economic Fund. In the wake of the passage of Hurricane Irma, St. Kitts & Nevis added a lower cost option (US$150,000 plus applicable fees) in the form of the temporary hurricane relief investment option (until March 2018), whereby the invested funds would be earmarked for assisting hurricane-affected areas. This latter change was sharply criticised. Even more recently, Antigua & Barbuda cut the investment threshold for the National Development Fund by 50%.

Any semblance of price competition among Caribbean CIPs is problematic for several reasons.  Although the majority of persons seeking alternative citizenship do so for the ease of business and travel a good quality passport brings, lowering the minimum investment threshold makes Caribbean CIPs more accessible to those persons who may seek alternative citizenship for nefarious purposes. Even if the due diligence processes remain unchanged, a perceived price war could cause third States to either reimpose visa restrictions or apply more scrutiny to passport holders of those States  (or of other Caribbean States!), which diminishes the value and attractiveness of those CIP-countries’ passports. It lessens the perceived value of the citizenship offered by those countries which may actually be a turn-off to some High Net Worth Individuals who may be more attracted to exclusivity.

What this speaks to is the need for CIP-operating Caribbean countries to eliminate price as a factor of competition by harmonising their minimum investment threshold, a point I made in a paper I delivered on this topic earlier this year.

2. Increase due diligence cooperation

Cooperation among CIP-operating Caribbean countries should also extend to cooperation on issues of due diligence to ensure that an applicant who fails one country’s due diligence requirements is not accepted under another’s. Based on my research, it appears that there is some due diligence cooperation already occurring, but more can be done. Additional options could be to harmonise due diligence requirements and to formulate a harmonised list of excluded countries instead of national lists as currently obtains in some CIP-operating Caribbean countries.  This would also address some of the national security concerns of non-CIP operating Caribbean countries, and third States.

3. Improve transparency

Lack of transparency remains a major problem plaguing the perception of Caribbean CIPs. Antigua & Barbuda’s legislation makes it mandatory for a 6-month report to be published and this information is found online. However, generally speaking, there is little information made available about Caribbean CIPs’ operation, except for the economic data found in the IMF’s Article IV consultation reports. With few exceptions, officials are often very reluctant to share data on these programmes’ operation, whether out of fear of competition or negative publicity.

Failure to share information only adds to the shroud of secrecy plaguing the programmes and it also makes it difficult to analyse the socio-economic impacts of these programmes.

It would be useful if CIP-operating Member States would use the framework for information sharing as mentioned in the Strategic Plan for the Caribbean Community Plan 2015-2019 to share data on the operation of their programmes for transparency purposes, including their approval and disapproval rates.

4. Compete on quality

Competition among Caribbean CIPs should be on quality of service and product without compromising standards. Caribbean countries already have inherent natural advantages which are pull factors for HWNIs, such as their natural beauty, pleasant climates, stable democratic societies and quality of life. But these alone are not enough. What the latest World Bank Doing Business Report 2018 shows is that there are several indicators on which Caribbean countries, including CIP-operating countries, can improve their attractiveness as investment destinations by improving the ease of doing business. Jamaica, which does not offer a CIP, is a good example of a Caribbean country which has been making sound reforms in the quest for  ‘best in class’ status as an investment destination.

5. Good governance

Good governance is key to the long-term sustainability of Caribbean CIPs. This includes ensuring that due diligence standards are robust, as well as that transparency and efficiency remain paramount to the programmes’ administration. It also entails keeping the programmes free of political interference.

6. Residency Criterion?

Currently, all five Caribbean CIPs are direct citizenship programmes which means that there is no requirement on the investor to reside in the jurisdiction for a fixed period of time before citizenship is granted. The lack of a residence requirement is one of the unique selling points of Caribbean programmes, but it is also one of the reasons why some third States are increasingly critical of these programmes.

The addition of  a short residency requirement, similar to Malta’s 12-month requirement, could be a possible option for Caribbean CIPs as it would remove some of the transactional nature to the process.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

IMF Staff Recommend St Lucia CIP Revenues be used Primarily to Reduce Debt

Alicia Nicholls

In the  Concluding Statement of their 2017 Article IV Mission to St. Lucia released February 6, 2017, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Staff recommended that revenues from the island’s Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP)  be used primarily to reduce the island’s high public debt and that limits  be placed on the amount of CIP revenues used to finance high-priority expenditure. The recommendations were based on a country mission undertaken by IMF Staff during January 16-27, 2017 pursuant to Article IV of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement. The IMF’s Concluding Statement outlines the preliminary findings made by IMF Staff during their mission.

In their commentary on St. Lucia’s macroeconomic performance, IMF Staff noted that although tourism activity was weak,  unemployment continued to fall. The Staff highlighted the economic reforms programme currently in the process of being rolled out by the Government. The Staff expect positive but moderate short-term growth. However, they cautioned that the island’s high public debt, which currently stands at 82% of GDP, and its “delicate fiscal situation”, require prompt attention. They also made suggestions on how the fiscal package  announced could better achieve its targets.

St. Lucia’s CIP

In January 2016, St. Lucia became the fifth Caribbean country to offer a CIP as an alternative tool for attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), joining fellow Caribbean CIP countries: Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada and St. Kitts & Nevis. St. Lucia’s CIP offers four investment options: a monetary contribution to the National Economic Fund (NEF), a real estate investment, a Government bond investment or an Enterprise Project Investment, with qualifying investment amounts set for each type of investment. In an effort to add exclusivity to the programme, the number of applications which could be approved by the Board had been capped at 500.

This was the IMF Staff’s first Article IV country mission to St. Lucia since the CIP’s first full year in operation. In their 2017 Concluding Statement, the IMF staff noted that the island received “relatively few applications in 2016” and that “the [St Lucian] authorities expect that the recent easing in the requirements and lowering of the costs to qualify for this program will encourage an increase in revenues.”

Changes to St. Lucia’s CIP Regulations – 2017 

Effective January 1, 2017, an Amendment to the Citizenship by Investment Regulations No. 89 of 2015  introduced several sweeping changes to St. Lucia’s CIP in an effort to boost its competitiveness. This includes, inter alia, a reduction in the qualifying contributions required, making it the most affordable programme in the Caribbean and the removal of the 500-application cap. A summary of the regulatory changes may be found on CIP St. Lucia’s website here.

However, while the Government’s desire to make its CIP more competitive is understandable, some have legitimately argued that these changes may undermine the programme’s exclusivity and may lead to a “race to the bottom” in terms of competition on price and ease of accessibility among Caribbean CIPs. Indeed, with the number of CIPs in the Caribbean now at five and several other countries around the world also offering CIPs or some form of immigrant investor programme, Caribbean CIPs face stiff competition both inter se and abroad.

As such, as I have argued before, increased cooperation among Caribbean CIP countries will be needed to ensure that high standards are maintained and that countries do not undercut each other in terms of price and robustness of their programmes. There seems to be some support for the need for greater cooperation, as St. Lucia’s Prime Minister, Allen Chastanet, earlier this year called for a joint OECS approach to CIPs.

Moreover, while I strongly believe that CIPs can be legitimate tools for development once managed well through raising revenue, encouraging FDI, infrastructural development, job creation and attracting  High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs), they should be used as an adjunct and not the main propeller for economic growth and development.

IMF Recommendations

In the Concluding Statement, the IMF Staff made several recommendations aimed at minimising St. Lucia’s risk of fiscal dependence on its CIP revenues, which can be volatile, and to reduce the impact of the global rise in interest rates. These recommendations included:

  • Using CIP revenues primarily to reduce the high debt.
  • Using a capped amount of CIP revenue for investment projects of primary importance
  • The importance of “transparency, appropriate governance, and careful due diligence” to reduce risks of sudden stops in CIP revenue inflows.

More detailed information will be known when the full Staff Report is produced and released at a later date.

The full IMF Staff Concluding Statement may be viewed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

In defence of Caribbean Citizenship by Investment (CBI) Programmes

Alicia Nicholls

A  60 Minutes Special aired by American network, CBS, on January 1, 2017 has added fuel to the fiery debate on the legitimacy of Caribbean countries’ economic citizenship programmes. Whether intended or not, the segment entitled “Passports for Sale” cast a shadow of iniquity on the programmes which certain Caribbean countries, and to which an increasing number of countries are turning in order to stimulate their economies and attract much needed foreign investment.

Last year, St. Lucia joined four other Eastern Caribbean countries: Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada and St. Kitts & Nevis by offering a direct citizenship programme. Economic investor programmes fall into two broad types: residency programmes (which only offer investors the right to reside) and citizenship programmes (which confer citizenship, either directly or after a period of residency).

Caribbean CBI programmes fall into the category of direct economic citizenship programmes which entitle qualifying investors and their qualifying spouse and/or dependents (e.g: children or elderly parents) to citizenship of the host country upon making a qualifying investment under that particular programme. Depending on the programme, a qualifying investment could be a monetary contribution of at least a certain amount to a special fund, the purchase of real estate of a minimum value or the purchase of government bonds in some cases. Investors and their co-applicants must also pass stringent due diligence procedures and pay the prescribed fees.

The reporting on the Caribbean CBI programmes was reduced to simply the “sale of passports” without taking into account the rationale behind the operation of these programmes. CBI programmes are not only about raising revenue through foreign investment for cash-starved Caribbean countries, but have wider development goals. These include helping to improve infrastructure, creating jobs and  attracting investors who are the “best of the best”, that is, persons with know-how and skills and networks which could redound to the benefit of the host economy. It is for this reason that an increasing number of countries, including Western countries, have either implemented economic investor programmes or are thinking of doing so.

CBI programmes not limited to small states

Indeed, missing from the CBS segment was that economic investor programmes are not unique to small countries like those in the Caribbean or the EU small state of Malta whose programme has a one-year residency requirement. Economic investor programmes are offered by a growing number of countries around the world. For example, the United States has its EB-5 Immigrant-Investor Programme where eligible investors may obtain a green card once they “make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States; and plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers”. Several European countries offer Golden Visa programmes, while a number of Canadian provinces offer Provincial Entrepreneur Programs whereby qualifying investors can attain permanent residence once a qualifying investment is made.

As I argued in a recent article I wrote for Henley Partners’ Global Residence and Citizenship Review Q3 2016, once carefully managed, CBI programmes can be tools of development. A prime example is St. Kitts & Nevis, which at one point had been among the world’s most indebted countries, and has seen its economic fortunes turned around.

Focuses on missteps and not changes

The 60 Minutes Special focused almost exclusively on the missteps made under some of the CBI programmes, while comparatively little was said of the changes made to the programmes to increase the robustness of the due diligence processes. For instance, St. Kitts & Nevis undertook a revamp of its programme amidst concerns raised by the US and Canada.

The CBS 60 Minutes Special also harped on the fact that some unsavoury characters had managed to obtain passports through CBI programmes. This is regrettable, no doubt, but “shady”characters have managed to earn residency in western countries which have much greater due diligence capability than do small states. The CBS Special did not mention, for instance, that Caribbean CBI countries maintain a list of restricted nationalities. Nationals from Afghanistan, Iran and Syria are not eligible under St. Kitts & Nevis’ programme, as an illustration.

Moreover, when oligarchs from Russia and the Middle East set up homes in western countries, no one (and rightfully so) questions their intention. Yet, why is a nefarious light cast on a Russian or Middle Easterner who obtains citizenship via a Caribbean CBI programme? Why the double standard? Or better yet, why are Caribbean countries constantly being held to a higher standard? Or is it because Caribbean CBI programmes, just like our much maligned offshore financial services sectors, are one area in which Caribbean countries can actually go toe to toe with developed countries?

Growing demand for secondary passports

One of the biggest falsehoods about CBI programmes is that secondary passports are sought primarily by persons with nefarious intent or as the CBS Special put it “scoundrels, fugitives, tax cheats, and possibly much worse”. This is far from the case. The growing class of High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs), which includes a growing number of persons from emerging economies, increasingly see second passports as an “insurance policy” against instability or economic uncertainty in their home countries. Moreover, simple things like travelling for business or taking one’s family on vacation can be burdensome if one comes from a country with limited visa-free access to other countries. A good quality passport, therefore, brings mobility benefits.

However, it is not only HNWIs from emerging economies which have sought secondary passports. Many, particularly those living abroad, are renouncing their American citizenship not because they necessarily want to dodge their tax duty, but because of the onerous and costly reporting requirements and the fact that American citizens may be liable to pay tax on income earned abroad to the Federal Government even if they have been resident in another country for years. Added to this, ever since the passage of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act of 2010 which requires foreign financial institutions to report to the US Inland Revenue Service on assets owned by US citizens, Americans have been renouncing their citizenship in record numbers.

The demand indicators for secondary citizenship are all trending in the right direction, which is yet another reason why countries are turning to economic investor programmes. The election of President-elect Donald Trump in the US led the Canadian Immigration Department’s website to crash on election night as Americans increased online enquiries about moving to Canada, while the UK’s impending withdrawal has spurred demand by UK nationals for second EU passports.

Additionally, investors who acquire citizenship under Caribbean CBI programmes do not only come from “questionable countries”. The St. Lucia Times reported in December that among the 38 citizenships which were granted in St. Lucia, “there were seven applicants from the Middle East, three from Russia, two from Asia, two from North Africa, two from South Africa, one from North America and one from Europe.”

Attractiveness of Caribbean passports

There is also the erroneous belief that Caribbean CBI programmes’ popularity stems from their  purported corruption or because of the perceived negligible due diligence.  Caribbean passports are attractive for a multiplicity of reasons. Holders of Caribbean passports enjoy visa-free access to a growing number of countries, which tick off the mobility box for investors. The high standard of living and political stability in the Caribbean appeals to those investors in search of a lifestyle change.

CBI Caribbean countries’ citizenship laws  recognise both citizenship by birth (jus soli) and citizenship by descent (jus sanguinis) meaning that investors can pass on their citizenship to their children (born after the investor’s acquisition of citizenship) whether they are born in the host country or not.Moreover, Caribbean countries allow for dual citizenship so they do not have to renounce their current nationality.

Another factor is that the lack of residency requirement reduces the time it takes to acquire citizenship than through naturalisation. There are other factors such as Caribbean countries’ access to international business hubs through frequent flights to international gateways, their tax-friendly climates and their network of tax treaties and investment treaties with third states.

Conclusion

For the above reasons I found the CBS 60 Minutes Special’s “Passports for Sale” segment to be extremely unbalanced. I also question why except for a nominal reference to Malta at the beginning, Caribbean CBI programmes were singled out and why so much attention was devoted to some of the mishaps but little was said of the steps taken to prevent a recurrence. An online petition by One people, One Caribbean has sought to set the record straight and also calls for the retraction of the segment.

That being said, I do believe that robust and honest debate on the functioning of Caribbean countries’ CBI programmes is an important exercise once it is objective and not skewed. For example, the lack of transparency on the number of citizenship approvals granted under CBI programmes and to whom is a problem I have mentioned before. Although some countries have started to release some of their statistics, more data should be released and in a more timely manner.

What is needed as well is greater cooperation among Caribbean CBI countries. Some critics of CBI programmes raise the legitimate fears that increased competition both among Caribbean CBI programmes and with extra-Caribbean CBI programmes may lead to a race to the bottom in order to remain competitive. Perhaps what needs to be done is harmonisation of Caribbean countries’ CBI due diligence requirements so that an investor who fails the due diligence requirements of one Caribbean programme cannot gain access to another’s. Another option could be to harmonise CBI countries’ restricted countries’ lists. I am under no illusion that this would be an easy task but it is perhaps worth considering.

There is some support for greater OECS collaboration on this issue. The Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Allen Chastanet, has called for an OECS approach to CBI programmes through an OECS initiative based at the OECS Secretariat. However, it should be noted that a pan-OECS initiative may be problematic as not all OECS countries are supportive of such programmes. Additionally, CBI programmes must be free of political influence and interference.

Cooperation with the wider Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is also needed. Non-CBI CARICOM countries have raised concerns about reputational and security implications for their own countries. Under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, the broad definition of “Community National” means that an individual who attains citizenship of a CARICOM country would qualify as a community national and be entitled to those benefits.

As I argued before, CBI programmes are not a panacea. Continued monitoring and upgrading of the programmes is needed to ensure that they meet their objectives of contributing to national development, while also ensuring the strictest of due diligence standards.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Citizenship by Investment receipts help power economic recovery in Eastern Caribbean Countries

Alicia Nicholls

Receipts from citizenship by investment programmes (CIPs) continue to be a major contributor to economic recovery in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU). This is according to the International Monetary Fund’s latest Staff Report on the ECCU released this month (October 2016).

CIPs have been an important development tool in Eastern Caribbean countries. In January 2016 St. Lucia became the 5th ECCU country to institute a CIP. The other ECCU countries which run CIPs are St. Kitts & Nevis, Grenada, Dominica and Antigua & Barbuda.

According to the IMF, most ECCU governments continued to rely on CIP inflows to fund their budgets in 2015. CIP inflows were highest in St. Kitts and Nevis, which has the world’s longest running CIP. In that country, CIP revenues to the public sector were at 17.4 percent of GDP. The report also noted that inflows reached 7.9 percent of GDP in 2015 in Antigua and Barbuda and 3.6 percent in Dominica.

However, the IMF did mention several potential downsides to the sustainability of the CIPs, including the increased competition ECCU CIPs face not only amongst themselves but from other CIPs and residency programmes worldwide, including Malta’s. Other risks the IMF mentioned include rising global migration pressures, elevated security concerns and geopolitical tensions which may trigger adverse actions by the international community, including suspension of visa-free travel for citizens of CIP countries.

In order to improve the sustainability of the programmes, the IMF also encouraged authorities to “develop a strong, regionally accepted set of principles and guidelines for citizenship by investment programs in order to enhance their sustainability” The staff suggested that the authorities share due diligence information on clients to prevent citizenship shopping in cases where an application is rejected by one jurisdiction.

The IMF cited the need to improve the management of the programmes and cautioned against over-reliance on CPI revenues for funding recurrent budgetary operations. Mindful of the threat posed by natural disasters, the IMF posited that CIP countries save the bulk of the CPI revenues in a well-managed fund to address natural disaster shocks and to fund disaster resilient infrastructure.

Arguing that a comprehensive governance framework is crucial to mitigating increased risks facing CIPs, IMF also recommended more transparency by making data on the programmes public and subject to financial audits.

The full IMF Staff Report for the ECCU may be viewed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.
« Older Entries