European Union Threat To Cut Off Visa-Free Travel For Caribbean Nations That Sell Passports.

Photo: Cross Border Freedom. This agency says it can get you a St. Christopher and Nevis passport, which gives you access to healthcare on the islands in just a few months.
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It is not only spies who are licensed to kill  like James Bond who sometimes need a spare passport or two for foreign travel. May rich people just buy extra passports quite legally, often from Caricom nations so that they can travel the world more easily, and perhaps evade taxes.

The European Union has raised security concerns about the trade in these “golden passports” and vowed to tighten visa controls after revealing five Caribbean states have sold citizenship to 88,000 individuals from countries including Iran, Russia and China.

The problem is that although these nations claim to have carried out so-called “due diligence” in investigating the backgrounds of passport applicants, the process is anything but transparent, few applicants are rejected, and there are fears that people associated with tax evasions, organized crime, terrorism, or spying may be obtaining these golden passports, and even changing their names in the process.

And no one really knows why so many people would want to spend so much money to be able to travel to Europe.

A report published by the European Commission on Wednesday sets out for the first time the true scale of the Caribbean passport trade. A number of countries sell citizenship to foreign nationals, with prices starting at $100,000 (£82,326) a head in Antigua.

Dominica, an island with a population of just over 70,000, has issued 34,500 passports, the report claimed. The number is more than four times the total previously disclosed by Dominica’s government. St Kitts and Nevis, with a population of 48,000, has issued 36,700 passports, twice as many as estimated up to 2018.

Dominica passports
Revealed: thousands who bought ‘golden passports’ through Dominica’s $1bn scheme

Five Caribbean states – Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and Dominica – have issued 88,000 passports between them.

The announcement follows publication of Dominica: Passports of the Caribbean, an investigation by the Guardian and other media organisations in partnership with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which examined Dominica’s citizenship by investment scheme in unprecedented detail.

What  is clear is that these Caribbean islands are not just selling passports to wealthy people who want to retire on an island and avoid paying taxes. Many of the new “citizens” have never visited their new “home”.

The sale of passports in Dominica surged after 2015 when citizens of a number of Caribbean states were given permission to travel to most EU member states for 90 days a year without a visa.

St Kitts reached agreement on visa-free travel with the EU in 2009. Overall, the EU has visa-free travel agreements with 60 countries.

When St Kitts signed the accord that removed travel restrictions to Europe in 2009, the number of passport buyers doubled in a year.

Caribbean passports are valuable because they allow visa-free travel to 130 countries including the UK and many European states – a prize for wealthy elites from Russia, China and the Middle East.

It also prompts a closer examination of citizenship by investment schemes.

Transparency International, a global civil society organisation that campaigns against corruption, has previously highlighted problems in Europe, stating: “Golden passport and visa schemes have turned EU citizenship and residency rights into a luxury good: with enough money, anyone can buy in.

It adds: “This is a particularly attractive prospect for criminals and the corrupt – and numerous scandals have proven they are taking advantage. These EU golden passport and visa schemes are not about genuine investment or migration – but about serving corrupt interests.”

The problem is insidious in the Caribbean, which has become a magnet for members of super-rich elites from the US and Europe seeking to take advantage of vulnerable nations to satisfy their need to create more wealth at the expense of the climate crisis, human rights and equality.

Golden visas have gained traction in Caribbean islands, especially those heavily dependant on tourism and foreign direct investment.

Advocates argue that CBIs can stimulate economic growth, create jobs and benefit local economies and infrastructure.

Attracting overseas investment can provide valuable sources of funding for public services and development, benefiting both citizen and immigrant, and countries can diversify beyond tourism and agriculture. But they come with their own set of challenges.

They often require property investment, which can bolster real estate markets but exacerbate wealth inequality, catapulting house prices beyond the reach of local people. Providing privileges to the wealthy deepens the divide between elites and locals.

This is especially true for countries belonging to the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States – Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Martinique and Guadeloupe.

Reports from the International Monetary Fund show CBIs contributed nearly 30% of GDP for Dominica and 25% for St Kitts and Nevis in 2022.

Citizenship scheme income helps to support hospitality, infrastructure, banking and youth development projects. CBI revenues have been pivotal in aiding these countries during Covid.

Some countries require a period of residency before granting voting rights, while others might not offer them at all to golden visa holders. This has led to controversy in the Caribbean where there have been allegations of using citizenship by investment for electoral manipulation.

The retired supervisor of elections in St Kitts and Nevis, Elvin Bailey, once expressed concern that CBI holders were being allowed to vote.

It has also been reported that a large number of Indian nationals, who are also Commonwealth citizens, and Chinese nationals, have been granted CBIs in St Kitts and Nevis that confer voting rights and ultimately allegiance to whichever administration dispenses these visas.

Some were found to be involved in corruption and criminal activities.

The EU commission is proposing to overhaul regulations, saying it is concerned golden passports could be enabling the “infiltration of organised crime, money laundering, tax evasion and corruption”.

It wants the power to suspend visa exemption for countries that sell citizenship to buyers who do not have a “genuine link” to the country.

Such a step would be a real blow to the real inhabitants of islands like St. Kitts, Dominica, and Antigua, who might lose their right to travel to Europe without visas, and if sales of passports drop off, that could mean higher taxes for islanders whose way of life is subsidized by passport sales.

Another issue is that the passports may give access to free or subsidized health care services, though it is not known what costs the governments may have incurred.

Sources: The Guardian, EU.
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