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Caribbean Nations Hike Prices for ‘Golden Passports’ Amid International Scrutiny

In a significant policy shift, four Caribbean countries have decided to raise the minimum cost of their citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programs to at least US$200,000 starting June 30, effectively doubling the current rates in some cases. This move comes as a response to increasing pressures from the US and the European Union, who have raised concerns over the misuse of these “golden passports” to bypass immigration controls and potentially facilitate criminal activities.

Citizenship-by-investment programs have been a substantial financial boon for the Caribbean, generating over US$579 million annually and constituting more than half of the national revenue for some smaller island nations. However, the programs have attracted scrutiny due to fears that they may allow criminals to engage in significant frauds and money laundering, as pointed out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

These “golden passports” provide visa-free access to many countries, including EU member states and the UK, making them highly attractive to individuals from countries like China, Russia, and Nigeria. According to a report from the EU last year, the five Caribbean nations with CBI programs have granted citizenship to at least 88,000 people through these schemes.

Amidst rising demand, partly fueled by the popularity of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, the Caribbean nations have also agreed to implement stricter controls. These include sharing information, undergoing independent financial audits, and enhancing transparency to alleviate concerns, particularly from the EU, about the integrity of these programs. Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit highlighted these measures in a recent statement, indicating a regional effort to reform the CBI landscape.

Interestingly, Saint Lucia, where passports currently sell for US$100,000, has opted out of this agreement, which includes Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, and Antigua and Barbuda. Saint Lucia officials have yet to respond to inquiries about their decision not to participate.

Further reforms aimed at preventing the sale of passports at significantly discounted rates were also announced. Previously, local property developers could offer passports to buyers at much lower prices under the promise of future payments. This loophole often led to buyers acquiring citizenship at below-market prices, especially if the related property projects stalled.

St Kitts Prime Minister Andrew Drew has specifically criticized these discount sales as detrimental to the integrity of the CBI industry, arguing they deplete government revenues and contribute to numerous unfinished projects.

These changes mark a critical juncture for the Caribbean CBI programs, signaling a shift towards greater regulation and oversight in an effort to preserve the economic benefits of these schemes while addressing international legal and security concerns.


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