Christopher Willis examines the Citizenship by Investment offering from St Kitts and Nevis.
St Kitts and Nevis is an exclusive Caribbean destination with impressive natural beauty. The islands offer twelve hours of sunshine almost year-round. With its tropical climate and cooling trade winds, it is an ideal place for relaxation. The two islands offer diverse vegetation from the many fine beaches to the attractive dense mountainous landscape. Differences in altitude and corresponding differences in soil types make it a paradise for tropical plants. The truly appropriate slogan of the local tourism authority, “Two islands – one paradise”, is befitting of the place.
The official language is English and the country is very proactive in promoting and attracting investment into the country. St Kitts and Nevis has a well-regulated financial services sector and no restrictions on repatriation of profits or imported capital. The country has a modern infrastructure with an international airport. There are direct daily flights from Miami and bi-weekly direct flights from New York and London.
St Kitts and Nevis has a democratically elected government with the Prime Minister as Head of Government and the Queen of England is Head of State.
The Federation is a member of the United Nations (UN), of the Organization of American States (OAS), the British Commonwealth, Caricom and many other international organizations. It uses the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC$), the national currency of most Eastern Caribbean countries, which is pegged to the US dollar.
For over 400 years, St Kitts and Nevis operated as mainly a sugar producing country until 2005 when the government closed down the industry due to decreasing profitability. Today, the main economic drivers are tourism, real estate and financial services.
Since 1984, the St Kitts and Nevis Citizenship Act has allowed foreign investors to acquire citizenship, making it the oldest existing citizenship-by-investment program. In 2007, Henley & Partners was mandated by the government to completely reform the program, and it has since become the most successful program of its kind in the world.
The St Kitts and Nevis Citizenship-by-Investment Program has always been carefully managed and only relatively few passports have been issued under this program. As a result, St Kitts and Nevis maintains a good reputation, and its citizens enjoy a well-respected passport and extensive visa-free travel.
The citizenship program of St Kitts and Nevis requires a person to make an economic contribution to the country. In exchange, and subject to a stringent application procedure including thorough background checks, the applicants and their families are granted full citizenship.
To qualify for citizenship, the person must be over eighteen years of age, meet the application requirements and make an investment of at least US$400,000 in one of the approved real estate developments or alternatively pay a contribution to the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF) of an amount starting from US$250,000 (for a single applicant).
If the applicant chooses to invest in a government approved real estate development, this option may involve additional real estate purchase costs (depending on the developer), and government fees of US$50,047 for the main applicant plus an additional US$25,047 for each dependent. There is also a due diligence fee of US$7,500 for the main applicant and US$4,000 for dependents over the age of 16 years.
The SIDF is a non-profit foundation established for the purpose of, inter alia, supporting the former sugar workers, conducting research into the development of industries to replace the sugar industry, funding the development of these alternative industries and providing further support to secure the sustainability of the national economy.
An applicant may make a contribution to the SIDF under the following four categories:
Under the SIDF, in each of these categories, the total amount includes all government fees, but excludes due diligence fees, which are the same for the real estate option (US$7,500 for the main applicant and US$4,000 for dependents over the age of 16 years).
The government allows for a dependent between the age of 18 and 25 years to be included in the application of the main applicant if the dependent is a full-time student at a recognised higher learning institution and is financially dependent on the main applicant.
The government also allows for parents and grandparents over the age of 65, of the main applicant or his or her spouse, to be included in the application as dependents, if the parent/s and grandparent/s are living with and are fully supported by the main applicant.
There is an additional government fee of US$50,000 payable for each dependent over the age of 18.
The government authority responsible for administering the program, the Citizenship-by-Investment Unit (CIU), is responsible for the processing of all applications. The CIU examines the application thoroughly and if deemed necessary, may request that the applicant attends an interview, although this is not generally a requirement. The CIU undertakes strict due diligence checks and will decline an application if the applicant makes a false statement or omits any relevant information on the application.
The applicant must apply on the prescribed government forms which are only available from the CIU or from an authorised provider. The applicant is required to personally complete the form in English and submit the prescribed forms together with original or certified supporting documentation as specified by the government.
The documentary requirements of the St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship-by- investment program are reasonable and the procedures straightforward.
Furthermore, most investors would normally visit the islands before making a decision on the purchase of real estate, which also needs to be taken into consideration. However, it is not a prerequisite for the application process.
The process usually takes between four to six months from submission of the application to the CIU to approval. Under the real estate option, the time frame may vary depending on the development, therefore it is important to choose a real estate project that is efficient in acquiring and completing the paperwork needed for the citizenship application.
If the real estate option is favoured, it is important for an applicant to be aware of the investment potential, financial strength, track record and reputation of the developer before committing to the property.
Once the applicant has chosen their preferred real estate, a sales and purchase contract is signed which is usually conditional upon the person receiving citizenship. After approval by the government, the real estate purchase is completed and the ownership title transferred to the buyer.
Upon approval-in-principle of the application by the CIU, the funds for the real estate or SIDF contribution, government fees and other fees will be released to the various parties. Thereafter, the Prime Minister will sign the official citizenship certificate which confirms the citizenship status. Once the citizenship certificate is issued, the person is entitled to apply for a passport.
There is no formal ceremony that the citizen must attend and the grant of citizenship is not made public. Full citizenship with a passport is granted to the applicant and their family. A St. Kitts and Nevis citizen is entitled to take up residence in St. Kitts and Nevis at any time and for any length of time. A St. Kitts and Nevis citizen may also reside in any other CARICOM country. There are no restrictions on dual citizenship in St. Kitts and Nevis.
The citizen is issued with a biometric passport, which is valid for 10 years. In the event that the passport expires, is lost or destroyed, the citizen may apply for a new passport at the passport office in St. Kitts.
There is no direct taxation in St. Kitts and Nevis. Even if a citizen resides on the islands, they will not be subject to personal income tax, estate duty, inheritance or succession taxes, gift taxes or net worth tax.
The St. Kitts and Nevis government have signed a visa-waiver agreement with the Schengen member countries which allows a St. Kitts and Nevis citizen to visit the Schengen countries without a visa for a period of three months within a six month period following the date of first entry into any EU country. Generally, the St. Kitts and Nevis passport is an excellent travel document to have. With a St. Kitts and Nevis passport, a citizen can travel to over 130 countries and territories around the world including Europe, Hong Kong, Singapore and the UK.
The Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, summarises the program by saying, “One of our key investment initiatives is the Citizenship-by-Investment Program, which is the oldest of its kind in the world. Since the reform of the program in 2007, and with the professional assistance of Henley & Partners both with the reform and global promotion, it has also become the most successful of its kind.
Understandably, the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis attaches great importance to this program, which we believe provides the basis for an integrated and strategic partnership between government and investors.
This partnership assists us in pursuing our national development agenda and secures for individual investors an opportunity to become a citizen of St. Kitts and Nevis. The program has high relevance and value to the development agenda of St. Kitts and Nevis, so my government places priority on and will protect the integrity and security of the program.
All this together makes St. Kitts and Nevis an ideal location for business, which offers excellent returns on investment, in a very beautiful, modern and accessible country.”
Christopher Willis is the Managing Partner of Henley & Partners Caribbean Ltd and is responsible for operations in St Kitts, Nevis and Antigua. He has been involved in the immigration industry since 1995 and is a member of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) and of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants (CAPIC). He is a regular contributor to immigration specific newspapers and magazines as well as a speaker at immigration and industry conferences.
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