By Moustafa Daly
The year 2023 brought many changes for the citizenship by investment (CBI) industry in the Caribbean, as some programs struggled while others thrived.
Amid increased scrutiny from the U.S. and European Union (EU), the region’s CBI industry faced a slowdown in countries such as St. Kitts and Nevis and Dominica, while others like Antigua and Barbuda managed to bolster their programs’ popularity this year.
Early last year, the U.S. made demands of Caribbean nations to regulate their programs, and the EU reportedly followed suit by making similar demands - albeit the EU’s alleged demands were never made in an official capacity. Nonetheless, in apparent compliance with the EU’s alleged demands, St Kitts and Nevis promptly doubled its program’s investment threshold to over $250,000 per main applicant, becoming the region’s most expensive CBI program, eventually proving counterproductive.
Meanwhile, the U.S. approach to reform in Caribbean CBIs is seen as constructive. “The U.S. and UK have taken a very collaborative approach to the Caribbean programs,” explains Patrick Peters, CEO of Montreal-based ClientReferrals, with vast experience promoting the programs of St. Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda; for which Peters is officially an authorized representative.
“The U.S. and UK realize the [Caribbean] countries can benefit financially from citizenship by investment, which can keep the government financially afloat in difficult times, for example when tourism takes a hit. The condition, of course, is that the programs should be run properly, strong due diligence should be in place, applicants are vetted, the programs are free from corruption, and that the countries reap real economic benefits from the investments the applicants are making,” Peters elaborates.
For Antigua and Barbuda, these demands didn’t constitute a challenge as the program has long applied stringent due diligence, says Peters. “The only major change is that now all applicants must undergo an interview in order to be properly identified,” he adds.
Are fears of an EU crackdown impacting Antigua and Barbuda CBI’s popularity?
It’s generally assumed that visa-free access to the EU and other developed world countries is the main driving force behind demand in the Caribbean CBI industry. It is also assumed that a potential EU crackdown on the programs could severely impact their popularity.
Peters paints a different picture. “I don’t think the travel mobility to the EU is the number one driving factor for the demand,” he argues. “Investors like these programs because they come with many other advantages.”
For example, Peters refers to the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War more than a decade ago. At the onset of the war, many Syrian nationals living in the GCC feared losing their work permits in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) should restrictions on Syrian nationals be implemented. While this never happened, “a lot of Syrians rushed to get a second nationality to secure their employment in the GCC - not particularly pursuing visa-free travel,” reveals Peters.
“If you’re a Syrian national working in Saudi Arabia and making $300,000 a year - paying $100,000 or more for a second citizenship to secure your job wouldn’t be much of an issue. Just like Syrians did back then, many around the world view these second nationalities as an insurance policy against changing geopolitical conditions,” he adds.
For others, pursuing a safe, stable, and low-tax jurisdiction has been the main reason to apply for citizenship by investment in the Caribbean.
As such, Peters hasn’t noted any decrease in demand for Antigua and Barbuda since the EU demands were reportedly made in 2023. To the contrary, “it’s actually more popular right now than ever before,” he says.
Other factors working for Antigua and Barbuda’s program are its relatively fast processing times, efficient administrative process, and an affordable price tag that starts at $100,000 for a contribution and $200,000 for a real estate purchase.
A flexible definition of dependents, which allows applicants to include parents, unmarried siblings, and offspring up to 30 years old, also make Antigua and Barbuda’s program one of the more popular in the Caribbean region, according to Peters.
St Kitts and Nevis bearing the brunt of increasing investment threshold
On the other hand, Peters reveals that the St. Kitts and Nevis program has seen a sharp decline in popularity since they doubled the investment threshold to $250,000.
The St Kitts government is now in an undesirable situation, he says. “Hiking the investment threshold 100% backfired. St Kitts and Nevis is now stuck trying to figure a way out as this is a bit of a PR nightmare. If the government reduces its price again, it doesn't look good, and they would effectively be admitting to its population that they made a mistake and that their citizenship isn't worth what they thought it was worth,” he explains
“I think they'll have no choice but to reduce their price or to do some kind of limited-time offer, but it will probably take a few more months before they come out with something like that,” Peters concludes.
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