UK revokes visa-waiver agreements with Dominica and Vanuatu, citing CBI abuse

By Moustafa Daly

The UK is suspending visa-free travel with five countries, Honduras, Namibia, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu, and Dominica, the last two of which run citizenship-by-investment programs that in big part rely on visa-free access to developed countries, including the UK.

The UK home secretary, Suella Braverman, cited “clear and evident" abuse of the two nations’ CBI programs as a main cause of the decision.

Vanuatu and Dominica have granted “citizenship to individuals known to pose a risk to the UK,” said Braverman in a written statement to the UK Parliament, further adding that suspending visa-waiver agreements with all five nations shouldn’t be taken as an indicator of poor relations with the countries, many of them Commonwealth nations.

“Vanuatu received lots of warnings from the EU and the UK,” says Laszlo Kiss, managing director at Discus Holdings. “Several applicants managed to get citizenship [in Vanuatu] by hiding the fact that they had a refused visa application in the UK.” 

As for the other nations, including Honduras and Namibia, Braverman said that their citizens have been "abusing" visa-free travel to arrive in the UK and then promptly seek asylum. “As such, Namibians and Hondurans rank first amongst non-visa nationals for asylum claims,” wrote Braverman.

The decision, which comes into effect on July 19, 2023, also includes a four-week transition period in which nationals of those five countries can still travel to the UK if they have confirmed bookings to the country. However, those initiating bookings after the imposition of the new rules will be denied entry without a valid visa.

Vanuatu’s CBI caught between the UK and EU 

The news comes as Vanuatu attempts to recover from a similar visa-waiver suspension imposed by the EU last November. In February 2023, however, the EU decided to give the island-nation an additional 18 months to reform its program while working closely with the EU to ensure it’s addressing its security concerns.

Reasons for the EU suspension were the program’s perceived low rejection rates of applicants and the lack of requirements for any physical presence prior to obtaining citizenship.

Today’s UK decision deals yet another blow to Vanuatu’s CBI program. As such, Kiss expects the UK’s decision to act as a warning to other countries offering similar programs.

Despite security enhancements, Dominica’s visa-free access is revoked

Shortly before the UK announced canceling the visa-waiver agreement, Dominica had announced revamping its CBI security protocol by introducing mandatory personal interviews to applicants to tighten the program’s security and due diligence.

The step came months after the US and five Caribbean nations struck a deal to enhance the islands’ CBI security, which introduced a five-tier security framework that includes conducting personal interviews; introducing tighter financial due diligence; rejecting applicants previously denied from other CBI programs; introducing regular auditing practices; working with international law enforcement to retrieve revoked passports.

Despite the UK decision, Dominica passport holders still have visa-free access to the Schengen Area, Hong Kong, and Singapore, among other attractive destinations.

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