The Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis had harsh words for the excesses of the buy-a-passport program that got his Caribbean country on Canada’s bad list.
It was “all because one man was caught up with his greed and hubris and self-interest,” Prime Minister Tim Harris recently told his country’s parliament, as reported by the St. Kitts and Nevis Observer.
Anybody with $250,000 could buy a St. Kitts and Nevis passport without so much as visiting the island nation. The country even started selling diplomatic credentials, most notably for Iranian businessman Alizera Moghadam, who entered Canada with a diplomatic passport he claims to have purchased for $1 million.
The United States soon warned that “illicit actors” were freely roaming the globe under the St. Kitts and Nevis name. Canada then upped the ante by ending a much-cherished visa waiver for visiting Kittitians and Nevisians.
Former PM Denzil Douglas. “All he wanted was money, money for his own sake,” his successor said.
And to Parliament, Harris laid the blame on predecessor Denzil Douglas, whom he ousted in a February election.
“And all he wanted was money, money for his own sake, and he was prepared to remove that which distinguishes us from other people and countries and other jurisdictions … to allow the illicit actors to be able to move about with disguise,” he was quoted as saying by the Observer.
Of course, it’s still possible to buy passports in St. Kitts and Nevis, but Harris has insisted that his government has smoothed out the excesses of the previous Labour government.
“The new government, which I now lead … has worked hard to strengthen the program to ensure that, by and large, no illicit actor can participate,” said Harris in an interview earlier this month.
Officially known as the Citizenship by Investment program, it allows foreign nationals to purchase St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship via either a $400,000 real estate purchase, or a $250,000 donation to the country’s Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation.
Debuted in 1984, it is a cheaper version of programs run throughout the western world, including Canada and the United States.
Until it was cancelled earlier this year, the Canadian Immigrant Investor Program, for instance, offered a path to citizenship for anybody with a net worth of more than $1.6 million prepared to give a tax-free $800,000 loan to the federal government.
Foreign passport-buyers remain a critical part of the St. Kitts and Nevis economy. For the 2014 fiscal year, citizenship fees were cited as providing nearly half of the government’s $767.9-million budget.
In his 2016 budget address, Harris praised the Citizenship by Investment program as “a major contributor to the national economy” that had been allowed to “fall into disrepute.”
Canada’s decision to kill the visa waiver, in particular, was cited as a friendly government “publicly telling the world it could not endure a relationship that had become risky to its national security interests.”
At the time, Canada’s rejection prompted a mass recall of 15,000 St. Kitts and Nevis passports to remove a particularly controversial feature that did not display the place of birth of a passport holder.
The ruling Team Unity government has maintained that the feature was maintained to make St. Kitts and Nevis passports more attractive to “illicit” buyers.
Despite changes, however, visas remain mandatory for “genuine visitors from St. Kitts and Nevis,” according to a note by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Entry will be denied to “those who would otherwise be inadmissible to Canada.”
Meanwhile, citizenship sales continue, and St. Kitts and Nevis authorities are quick to note the dozens of countries that will still let in a St. Kitts and Nevis passport holder for free.
“People holding a St. Kitts and Nevis passport can travel to 133 countries without the need for a visa; you can travel to Europe and a multiplicity of countries in the Caribbean,” said Harris in a recent interview.