For $100K, you can buy citizenship of a country you've never visited

For $100K, you can buy citizenship of a country you've never visited

- in Business

Caribbean nations ravaged by recent hurricanes are selling citizenship at dramatically discounted prices in an effort to raise emergency funds, sparking concerns that the programs may be vulnerable to abuse.

Past scandals involving Iranian-born individuals buying St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship to evade sanctions and invest in the U.S. highlight the potential vulnerabilities of citizenship-by-investment programs — which have been branded “passports for sale.” In some cases, those prepared to pay $100,000 or more for citizenship don’t even need to travel to the country before getting the documentation.

Some experts worry the scramble to pay for hurricane-relief efforts could make authorities more inclined to approve would-be citizens and result in laxer vetting practices.

Five Caribbean nations currently offer citizenship in exchange for either a one-off contribution to the nation or an investment in a designated sector, such as real estate. Many of those countries’ passports allow visa-free travel to the European Union.

“It’s fairly clear these programs are being exploited by all sorts of people with something to hide whether that be tax evaders, terror finance operatives, drug cartels or corrupt oligarchs, you name it,” said Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a right-leaning Washington, D.C.-based think tank. “You need cash in hand and it’s a pretty straightforward process which doesn’t take that long.”

Hurricanes Irma and Maria tore through the Caribbean last fall, devastating dozens of islands including several where citizenship-by-investment is an option.

Image: St. Kitts

St. Kitts features the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other.