Instant citizenship, competitive price: Caribbean islands anyone?

St. John's, Antigua port and skyline at dusk. Photo: Shutterstock
Recently, citizenship by investment in a Caribbean country made headlines for the wrong reasons. Mehul Choksi, a fugitive businessman and the uncle of Punjab National Bank scam-accused Nirav Modi, acquired the citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda while giving Indian authorities a slip.

The citizenship by investment programme in Caribbean countries is not used only by fugitives and tax evaders. Indians migrating to these countries usually also do so for business or for a comfortable life after retirement. Citizens of many Caribbean nations get visa-free travel to Europe’s Schengen region and many other countries.

These countries also allow dual citizenship. Indian laws, however, do not permit it. “Many Indians face the problem of applying for visas to travel or do business. A passport from select Caribbean countries like Grenada, St Kitts & Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, and St Lucia, can be a fast and easy solution to this inconvenience,” says Veronica Cotdemiey, CEO of Citizenship Invest, a Dubai-based firm that specialises in citizenship and residency programmes. Grenada citizens, for example, can travel visa-free to China, Russia, Brazil, South Korea, and so on.

Besides providing the freedom to travel to key business destinations, citizenship to these countries also costs very little, especially when compared with others.

Competitively priced

Citizenship by investment in countries like St Lucia and Antigua & Barbuda starts at $100,000. The applicant also has the option of either contributing to the government fund (usually a lower amount) or buy real estate (comparatively high amount) to get the citizenship. The citizenship programme of St Kitts & Nevis and Grenada starts at $150,000.

Getting a citizenship can take between 60 and 180 days. Once the government approves, citizenship is given instantly. Most of these countries do not need you to have resided in the jurisdiction for a specific period before they give you a citizenship. What’s more, you can also include dependent parents (above a particular age) and children (below a particular age). The countries also have regulations that prevent revocation of citizenship once granted.

Applicants are strictly vetted

While it is competitively priced and fast, any nation that allows citizenship by investment has a strict vetting process. “A majority of programmes either already have in place a mechanism for intensive due diligence, effective regulation, and well-implemented policy frameworks, or they are actively in the process of having those. This is especially true of the Caribbean programmes,” says the spokesperson of Henley & Partners, one of the biggest global citizenship and residence advisory firms.

The advisory firm points out that the four-tier compliance required by the Antigua and Barbuda Citizenship-by-Investment Program is typical. It checks the most-wanted list of criminals by different agencies worldwide. The country uses third-party due diligence service providers to conduct background due diligence on the principal applicant and associated family members. Pertinent information related to the applicants is shared with regional and international governmental partners. It is only after such strict due diligence that the government grants a citizenship.

Henley & Partners cites reports to state that 99 per cent of the persons admitted to citizenship under these programmes are legitimate. “It (however) goes without saying that even with the greatest care, there cannot ever be a guarantee preventing future criminal activity by anyone. An individual’s record may be completely clear at the time of their application, and they might pass all the stringent due-diligence tests imposed on them, but they could go on to engage in criminal activity after the fact. Such regrettable cases account for the one per cent that Vincent alludes to — a small percentage of total applicants that should not dominate the narrative surrounding investment migration as a whole,” says the Henley & Partners spokesperson.

Surrendering Indian passport

It’s easy to surrender your passport. It can be done from anywhere in the world by visiting the Indian embassy and filling up a few forms. Once the person is granted the citizenship of another country, there is a 90-day window during which his Indian passport remains valid.

Other popular counties

There are two programmes that different countries run. Apart from citizenship by investment (CBI), there also is residence by investment (RBI). While the interest in Caribbean countries is rising, most Indians still prefer RBI, as it is legally not possible to hold dual citizenship while being an Indian resident. Many Indians are looking at RBI programmes in Malta, Portugal, Switzerland, Greece, Jersey, Hong Kong, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand. These countries are popular as they offer a better quality of life.