By Makeida Antonio
The future of Citizenship by Investment Programmes (CIP) in the Caribbean is under threat with the European Union set to issue what some may consider an untimely ultimatum.
Last Wednesday, a vote was taken by the European parliament to ask the European Commission, which can be likened to the Cabinet of Europe, to formulate a strategy asking countries that offer CIP to phase them out or face visa restrictions.
President of wealth management firm Apex Capital Partners Corp, Nuri Katz, told Observer that while the decision is not yet official and may take a while, Caribbean countries must take it seriously.
Apex Capital Partners works with clients who are seeking citizenship in the Caribbean through its offices in St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica as well as European countries.
Katz, however, believes that it will take several years for any decision by the EU to revoke visa-free access from CIP countries to be implemented.
“I believe it may be coming but it isn’t here yet. I think the CIP countries should gather around the stakeholders in the industry and start developing a strategy to try to work with the EU to fashion a response that will allow the CIP countries to maintain the programmes,” Katz said.
Katz said that strategy should engage Europe and show them just how important the CIP is to their countries.
“I think the EU is worried about how rigorous the due diligence is being done on all candidates who receive citizenship. I have always said that the due diligence that Antigua, Dominica, St Kitts and other islands do, is the best known to man and that should be conveyed,” he added.
Meanwhile, Katz noted that, even with all the checks and balances which exist before approving applicants, it is difficult to report on potential mishaps in the future.
“Due diligence has one weakness: it can only look into the past. It can’t predict the future so we can only look at what the people have done, how they’ve made their money, whether they have any criminal record or anything like that. There is no way in any kind of due diligence that you will be able to predict what those people will do in the future,” Katz said during an interview yesterday.
He argued that so far, using the international due diligence agencies that these countries use, local regional and international law enforcement tools, the process “has been very successful”.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said the mere notion of attempting to stop CIP programmes by the EU will spell major trouble for Caribbean countries.
“It’s a difficult situation because if you don’t have visa-free access into the Schengen Area, then clearly it will undermine the viability of these programmes. A lot of people get our citizenship, it’s also to get visa-free access into that region,” Browne stated during his weekly radio show.
PM Browne explained that a similar scenario occurred following Canada’s decision to remove visa-free access to citizens of Antigua and Barbuda and, prior to this, the country was raking in about EC$200 million dollars by 2015/2016 following the inception of CIP in 2014.
As a result, PM Browne has written to decision makers in Europe to outline the severe impact to Caribbean economies if CIPs across the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) come to a screeching halt to avoid visa restrictions in the Schengen Area.
“I have taken the opportunity to write to policymakers, parliamentarians in Europe and those two Congressmen who are now tabling this legislation to let them know the impact that they are about to inflict on our CIP programmes and the impact on our economies,” he said.
At the centre of concern for the Prime Minister is that as much as 50 percent of annual revenue in some OECS countries is directly derived from their respective CIP programmes.