Struggling Caribbean islands selling citizenship

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 12, 2013 at 1:22 pm •  Published: February 12, 2013
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Critics say the programs undermine the integrity of national passports and have security risks. While there are no known cases of terrorists using the programs, experts say that's a possibility with many visa arrangements anywhere.

"No level of scrutiny can completely guarantee that terrorists will not make use of these programs, just as 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," said Madeleine Sumption, a senior policy analyst at the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.

Canada imposed visa requirements on Dominica citizens a decade ago after complaining that suspected criminals had used island passports. And in 2010, Britain said it was considering visa requirements for Dominicans, prompting the island to review its 20-year-old economic citizenship program. Dominica never publicly released the results of its review and Britain took no action.

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

Some locals 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."

St. Kitts opposition leader Mark Brantley said the citizenship program was bringing much needed revenue to the debt-swamped islands, but he said there should be better oversight and public accounting. "We do not see that sufficient controls are currently in place to ensure that bad people, for want of better language, do not get access to our citizenship," he said.

It's not just economic refugees who are interested in the programs.

American Neil Strauss wrote of securing citizenship in St. Kitts in his 2009 book on survivalist preparedness, "Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life."

"The same way we have a backup drive for our computer in case the hard drive explodes, I just felt like I wanted a backup citizenship in case the same thing happened to my country," Strauss said during a phone call from his home in Los Angeles. Like most economic citizens of St. Kitts, he rents out his island property.

Some other struggling Eastern Caribbean islands are looking at adopting the St. Kitts model.

Antigua & Barbuda is launching its own citizenship program to drum up money. And leaders of both main parties on the poor island of Grenada have hinted they may revive a program that was suspended after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, due to fears that local passports could be mistakenly sold to terrorists,

In Dubai, Mezawi said he keeps meeting fellow Dominica passport holders, mostly people of Iranian and Palestinian background.

"After the Arab Spring, it's become more difficult for us to really travel around the world, even in the Arab region," he said. "But being a citizen of Dominica, it is much, much better for us."

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David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter/com/dmcfadd