Pay to stay? St Kitts has a ‘citizenship by investment’ programme. *MCT photo
Pay to stay? St Kitts has a ‘citizenship by investment’ programme. *MCT photo

Could Bermuda become the next St. Kitts and Nevis?

The Caribbean country of  50,000, has the oldest so-called citizenship by investment programme in the world. Since 1984, the programme has allowed foreign investors to acquire citizenship if they make economic contributions to the country. 

To qualify, an applicant must invest at least $400,000 (USD) in one of the approved real-estate developments, in addition to paying fees. Alternatively, the applicant could make a  $250,000 contribution to the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation – an economic development programme.

 Next week, Madeleine Sumption, a senior policy analyst at the Washington DC think tank Migration Policy Institute will make a presentation here on commercial immigration, where she will talk about models like St Kitts.

The January 14 event will be hosted by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The OBA government has pledged to examine the idea of commercial immigration in order to foster economic growth.

There are different commercial immigration models around the world. Typically, said Ms Sumption, the programmes require a substantial private sector investment or a substantial donation to a government-run charitable fund in exchange for citizenship or a visa.

The US, UK, Malta, Grenada and Antigua all have some iteration of commercial immigration.

“It’s becoming a more competitive market,” she said. “There are more governments that have these programmes.”

She expects that trend to continue: “A lot of the people who are applying for the programmes — a lot of them are Chinese and a lot of them represent the new global middle class that is coming from emerging economies that wasn’t there 10 or 20 years ago.  There’s likely to be quite a large pool of people who will apply for these programmes.  It’s likely that investor immigration programmes will be a bigger part of the picture than they are in the past.”

The programmes usually range from a few hundred to a few thousand participants each year, according to Ms Sumption.

But are such programmes met with protest? Some of these initiatives do; after all, allow someone to essentially buy citizenship.

Ms Sumption says she has not noticed protests from unions or organized labour in countries that have implemented commercial immigration as such initiatives are designed to attract “high level businessmen” who don’t necessarily compete with union jobs.

Uncomfortable

She does acknowledge: “There’s a lot of sensitivity about buying citizenship. There’s a political attachment, the right to vote. There’s cultural and political pieces of citizenship and sometimes that makes people uncomfortable”.

The PLP last night came out strongly against commercial immigration. 
Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, Walter Roban, said in a statement that “giving away Bermudian citizenship and the right to vote to hundreds of non-Bermudians is a red line we will not allow to be crossed.

“While we support efforts to increase revenue and to encourage investment in Bermuda, we do not and will not, support the OBA Commercial Immigration scheme. 

“The PLP is committed to defeating any effort to relegate Bermudians to second class citizenship status to anyone sneaked in under a cash for passports scheme. 

“The recent amendments to the Incentive For Jobmakers Act has already opened a doorway for a select few at the expense of Bermudian workers. The PLP will not be supporting any legislation or policies that continue this trend of disenfranchising Bermudians. We encourage Bermudians to contact the OBA MPs and let them know that like us, you won’t stand for any effort to push Bermudians to the back of the line for jobs and opportunities in our own country.” 

Next Tuesday’s meeting on the subject is open to the public and will take place at the Cathedral Hall on Church Street, 6-7.30 pm.