Citizenship for sale
When I was in a plane the other day, and was reading the in-flight magazine with more than usual diligence, I was surprised to see a several-page advert advertising 'citizenship by investment' in a variety of different Caribbean countries (it was from this company, but the same services are also available from this company and no doubt others). I'm probably a bit naive not to have known about this kind of thing before and my first reaction was the obvious one: there are thousands of people in the world who dont have effective citizenship of any nation, and here there was extra citizenship being advertised for a considerable amount of money to the rich, as an 'add-on' for those who already had a passport from somewhere else. There was something about it being in the in-flight magazine that somehow made it worse, as if stretching out <sic> your legs on some international flight, your thoughts might turn to a bit of citizenship-buying, rather than to the duty free.
But then I got to the nitty gritty. One thing was the price, and the differentials. Why I wondered did it require a $250,000 investment in St Kitt's 'Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation' for a fast track to a passport, but only a $200,000 investment into the 'National Development Fund' for a similar deal in Antigua. Was there something rather less desirable about Antigua? There didn't seem to be. And, in any case, there wasn't in either offer the need to set foot in the place to get the passport. (There's a 'citizenship-by-investment' comparison website here.)
But the general advantage you would get from your investment seemed pretty clear: in just a few months, you get visa-free travel to a large number of countries, including the EU. This is the St Kitt's list. Nationals of some countries are banned from these investment deals (if you are an Afghan citizen, don't get your hopes up), and there is due diligence on criminal records etc, but it's an easy way if you are from China or Russia or Sudan of getting a 'free' pass around the world.
A bit of Caribbean money-making I thought; not something 'we Europeans' would do.
But I was wrong. Austria, for example, has a similar scheme in place, if this website is correct. It costs a lot more (€3-10 million) and takes a bit longer (12-18 months), but you don't have to learn German -- and it gives you visa-free access to 171 countries.
The UK, of course, doesn't do exactly this, and certainly not with citizenship itself. But 'residence visas by investment' are advertised on the same website that features some of these Caribbean citizenship offers, as well as "Indefinite Leave to Remain' for a enhanced sum. As it says:
"For wealthy individuals one of the best options in order to qualify for leave to remain in United Kingdom is the Tier 1 Investor Visa.
The investor category is designed to allow wealthy individuals who make a substantial financial investment in the UK to obtain permission from the UK to enter as an investor under the Tier 1 category. The applicant must invest a minimum of GBP 2 million in the UK.
The Tier 1 Investor category has the shortest Investor Immigration application processing time amongst the G8 countries and has very objective entry criteria with a predictable outcome."
Here too, there doesnt seem too much hassle about qualifying if you have the cash:
"The applicant is not required to show business experience or the ability to speak English. Some nationals (China, Russia, Nigeria among them) are required to undertake a TB test before submitting their application. Investors are permitted to be gainfully employed under this visa or undertake a course of study in the UK."
And if you want to bring Mum and Dad, there's a route:
"The UK investor visa does not provide for dependent parents, who may be required to apply for leave to enter the UK under a different visa category, although currently this is very difficult. Alternatively, the parents and other extended family could consider obtaining an alternative citizenship and passport such as Antigua & Barbuda, so that they may travel freely into the UK for up to a six month period at any one time."
Now, maybe, it isn't all quite as simple as these glossy brochures and websites try to suggest; no doubt there are also a lot of scams out there promising a lot more than they can deliver; and I guess they could be the source of useful investment money for countries, ours included, that need it. So be careful not to leap to judgement, Beard.
All the same, the more I dug around in the details, the nastier that original taste in my mouth became. To them that hath, it shall be sold.