Amid allegations of rampant corruption and selling citizenship to even wanted terrorists and criminals as well as members of drug and weapon trafficking rackets, European Union is now going to toughen visa procedures for citizens of Caribbean nations, alongside suspending visas of people who bought passports from countries that sell citizenship to foreigners under Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programs.
The European Union (EU) is raising concerns over Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programs in the Caribbean and has proposed changes that will make it easier to suspend the visas of people who bought passports from countries that sell citizenship to foreigners.
On October 18, 2023, the European Union in a report for the first time gave a glimpse of the magnitude of the CBI programs in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Lucia. It said to date, 88,000 passports have been sold by these five countries with Dominica selling 34,500 which, according to reports, is four times more than what the government of Dominica has reported. The EU’s announcement to overhaul the regulations concerning visa-free travel to its borders follows the recent publication of an investigation conducted by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and a number of international media houses which placed Dominica’s CBI program under the microscope. The report from that investigation is entitled “Dominica: Passports of the Caribbean”.
According to an EU Commission report to the EU Parliament, visa-free travel brings significant benefits to the European body and its partners around the world.
“It makes travel more convenient and is an important tool to promote people-to-people contacts, tourism, economic development, and cultural exchange. The EU currently has a visa-free regime in place with 60 third countries,” the Commission’s report said. “Under this regime, nationals from these countries can enter the Schengen area for short stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa”.
It said such a regime benefits citizens from both sides with the number of travelers between the EU and visa-free non-EU countries being 364.8-million in 2019 – a rise of seven percent as compared to 2018.
But the Commission pointed out that investor citizenship schemes, such as those operated by Dominica and other Caribbean countries, which offers visa-free access to the EU “can result in risks or threats to the public policy or internal security of the Member States, including those related to infiltration of organized crime, money-laundering, tax evasion and corruption”.
The Commission is now proposing a strengthening of its visa suspension mechanism which was first established in the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 November 2018. That mechanism, Regulation (EU) 2018/18068, was set up as a safeguard against the abuse of visa-free travel.
“This mechanism enables the temporary suspension of the visa exemption in case of a sudden and substantial increase in irregular migration or security risks,” the Commission’s report said. “However, with increasing challenges resulting from irregular migration, and threats to the security of the EU, it became clear that this mechanism needed to be further strengthened and improved”.
Among the improvements being proposed to the EU parliament is the power to suspend visa exemption for countries that sell citizenship to people who do not have a “genuine link” to the country.
Dominica’s CBI program does not make it a requirement for buyers of passports to have a home on the island or even visit the country.
“The EU should have the possibility to suspend the visa exemption for a third country that chooses to operate an investor citizenship scheme whereby citizenship is granted without any genuine link to the third country concerned in exchange for pre-determined payments or investments”, the EU Commission stated.
It expressed concerns that CBI programs sell and advertise “golden passports” solely for the “purpose of allowing visa-free travel to the Union to third-country nationals that would otherwise be visa required”.
“While the Union respects the right of sovereign countries to decide on their own naturalization procedures, visa-free access to the Union should not be used as a tool for leveraging individual investment in return for citizenship”, the Commission said.
Another concern expressed by the Commission is that Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and Dominica all offer successful applicants “the possibility to change identity after having obtained citizenship by investment”.
“We have countries within the visa-free regime with the EU that are selling passports/citizenships quite cheaply to people that are security risks or potential security risks to the EU”, the European Union home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson said recently when the report was released.
“They are sometimes allowed to change their names and identity several times after getting the new citizenship, and of course this is also security risks for the EU that we have to look into”.
Johansson raised concerns that CBI programs are being used for migration, telling reporters that 150,000 people had used the visa-free travel arrangements to get into the EU and then claim asylum.
“This is of course, not how the visa-free traveling should be used”, she said.
The report was also concerned over the low rate of rejection for passports by Dominica and St Kitts saying it was “extremely low (between 3 and 6 percent), which, together with the short processing times (as little as two months in some cases), raises questions as regards the thoroughness of the security screening”.
Concerns were also raised since the majority of passport sales were made to citizens from countries that have high levels of perceived corruption, including China and Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Nigeria and Libya.
“Visa-free access to the EU should not be used as a commercial commodity to be sold and bought”, the report said.
This is not the first time CBI programs have come under scrutiny by European countries. In July this year, the UK suspended visa-free travel for people holding Dominican passports.
Back then Foreign Minister, Dr Vince Henderson, described the UK move as a “major blow” to Dominica’s CBI program but Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, said while it was “unfortunate” it will not cause permanent harm.
Later in July, the EU laid down a number of stringent rules which it said must be adopted by countries with CBI programs. Robust due diligence, mandatory interviews, the enhancement of security measures, and increase in investment thresholds were some of the measures CBI countries must develop, the EU had mandated.
It is unclear at this point how much of an impact the new visa suspension rules being proposed by the EU Commission will have on Caribbean CBI programs. However, after the UK suspended Dominica’s visa free access, the prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines warned that the EU hammer will soon be coming down on these programs.
Meanwhile, according to media sources, Dominica although has declared of selling 34,500 citizenship under its CBI program, the actual number if much higher – exceeding 100,000 whereas Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has even sold diplomatic passports to a large number of individuals that include convicted corrupt politicians, terrorists and members of narco-cartels.