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Displaced people finding quick citizenship in Caribbean

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 13th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

War and uncertainty in the Middle East and North Africa have led many displaced people to buy citizenship or residence in countries around the world. The majority are seeking a second passport for carefree travel -- or a ready escape route in case things get worse at home. By the far the simplest place in order to so are the tiny Eastern Caribbean islands of Dominica and St. Kitts & Nevis.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - In response, a Dubai-based company is building a 4-square-mile community in St. Kitts where investors can buy property and citizenship at the same time. Some 375 shareholders will get citizenship by investing $400,000 each in the project, which is expected to include a 200-room hotel and a mega-yacht marina. Others will obtain passports for buying one of 50 condominium units.

St. Kitts, which is less than twice the size of Washington D.C. is a popular destination spot for the world's dispossessed. "The more they fight over there, the more political problems there are, the more applications we get here," Victor Doche says, managing director of another company that offers four condominium projects where approved buyers are granted citizenship.

"Investor visa" or citizenship programs are offered by many nations, including the United States, Canada, Britain and Austria. The Caribbean countries offer a fast path to citizenship at a very low cost. The whole process, including background checks, can take as little as 90 days in St. Kitts. And there's no need to ever live on the islands, or even visit.

A foreigner can qualify for citizenship in St. Kitts with a $250,000 donation to a fund for retired sugar workers or with a minimum real estate investment of $400,000. The minimum contribution in Dominica is $100,000.

In contrast, a U.S. program allows visas for a $1 million investment in a U.S. business employing at least 10 people or $500,000 in designated economically depressed areas.

In addition, a Dominica passport holder can travel without a visa to more than 50 countries, while a St. Kitts passport provides visa-free travel to 139 countries, including all of the European Union.

While there are no known cases of terrorists using the programs, it remains a very real concern. "No level of scrutiny can completely guarantee that terrorists will not make use of these programs," Madeleine Sumption, a senior policy analyst at the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute says. " . background checks cannot eliminate the risk that dangerous individuals will not enter the country (the U.S.) on tourist visas, as students or as refugees," she says.

As an example, St. Kitts closed its program to Iranians in December 2011, shortly after Iranian students stormed the British Embassy in Tehran. Iranians had formerly been a major source of applicants.

Some worry the programs could get out of hand if conditions worsen abroad.

"There could be a flood of people with our passports relocating here," said Dominica's Wiltshire. "What are we going to do then? Really, this program must be halted. It's dangerous to us and dangerous for our neighbors."

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