DUBAI: If you have been dreaming of getting away from the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, you can — provided you have some cash in hand.
For the starting sum of $150,000, you can buy your citizenship of the pristine Caribbean islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis.
With their pure white sands, swaying palm trees and sparkling blue waters, the islands offer the affluent both a welcome retreat and a secondary citizenship.
The Citizenship by Investment (CBI) program grants citizenship to individuals of high net worth and their families, who get in addition visa-free access to 156 countries, including EU member states and the UK.
Seemingly for this reason, the St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program has witnessed a notable increase in applications from the Arab world during the pandemic.
St. Kitts has been relatively unscathed by COVID-19. The island was placed on lockdown on March 31 after its number of cases rose to eight.
The lockdown was lifted on April 27, but the government has imposed the mandatory use of masks while outdoors.
To date, there have been 15 COVID-19 cases and no deaths.
“We have been seeing an increase in interest recently from the Middle East, especially as the lockdowns ease,” Les Khan, CEO of the St. Kitts and Nevis CBI Unit, told Arab News.
“Most of our applicants from the Middle East are families. Due to the pandemic, these individuals want to have the flexibility to travel and visit their families and children overseas with ease.”
Moe Alhaj, CEO of Migrate World Ltd, said, “There’s been a notable increase — of around 40 percent — in applicants from the Arab world during the pandemic.”
Migrate World Ltd is one of the authorized representatives for the St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship program for the Middle East and Africa regions.
Nationals of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are not allowed to hold dual citizenships.
“The individuals that the program caters to in the Middle East are largely from Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia,” added Alhaj. The program does not accept applicants from Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea.
Due to the current global restrictions in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, applications are being received electronically.
The highest number of applications following those from the Middle East come from China, the program spokesperson told Arab News.
Launched in 1984, the St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program’s initial purpose was to assist the islands’ economy, which had suffered due to the collapse of its sugar industry.
“The CBI program began as a way to stimulate foreign direct investment into the country,” explained Khan.
There are currently around eight countries that offer citizenship by investment, but the St. Kitts and Nevis program is by far the oldest. In the Caribbean, there are currently around five other programs of this nature.
“The St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program has become recognized as the platinum brand,” said Khan.
All other programs — such as the Canadian visa program and the US EB-5 investor visa — came in the wake of this one and are largely residence programs, Khan explained.
“This means that you invest a lot of money, get residency and after five to seven years, you obtain citizenship. In the case of the St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program, you get citizenship after three months.
“One of the main reasons why people want this citizenship is to able to travel with a passport that allows them visa-free access to numerous countries,” Khan said.
“Secondly, citizenship acts as an insurance policy; a second passport gives individuals flexibility. Thirdly, people are looking for alternative lifestyles. Where else would you want to be other than in the Caribbean, on one of the finest islands?”
Education is also an important factor to consider, especially for parents who are looking to enroll their children in a different environment.
“There are multiple reasons why people want another citizenship,” said Alhaj.
“Some do it for work mobility, so that they don’t have to obtain a visa to attend a meeting in the UK or elsewhere in Europe. With the St. Kitts passport, you can hop on a plane and go directly to Europe or to the UK or to the many other countries that are part of the visa-free list.”
“Another aspect that lures applicants is the lifestyle — the vacations that St Kitts and Nevis offers,” said Alhaj. “There is also healthcare access for individuals with long-term issues.”
Alhaj said the process of application is straightforward and takes anywhere from three to six months.
“This is after a due-diligence process that runs a check from all government agencies around the world to make sure that the individual is in good standing and hasn’t been arrested before,” he explained.
The checks also involve looking out for money laundering instances by the applicant and whether they have been or are on any sanctions lists.
In terms of documentation, applicants need to submit birth and marriage certificates, bank statements, reference letters, utility bills, and title deeds or rental agreements, among other documents. They must also undergo a medical check-up, which includes taking an HIV test.
With regard to the cost of obtaining citizenship, Alhaj explained that the applicant could choose between two options — a contribution option that starts at $150,000 in addition to other fees, and a real-estate option that begins at $200,000 and includes investment in property or in the shares of a resort on the islands.
The contribution amount, he informed, increases depending on the size of the family that is applying.
“For the life-changing services you’re getting, these are very inexpensive options,” said Alhaj.