Challenges over ‘economic’ citizens within CARICOM
LAST FRIDAY’S surprising deferment by the Antigua and Barbuda Senate of a controversial “Economic Citizenship Bill” already passed by the House of Representatives, could well provide an opportunity for Caribbean Community partners to communicate their own specific concerns with this legislation in relation to intra-regional movement by holders of a CARICOM passport.
All member states have standardized the issuing of passports that feature on the cover the CARICOM emblem (CC Caribbean Community) along with the coat-of-arms of the particular nation to facilitate hassle-free movement.
The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has gone further with arrangements for citizens to live, work and make investments consistent with plans for the sub-region’s transformation into an economic union, even as the rest of CARICOM continues to respond to varying challenges being faced by their citizens.
This so-called “economic citizenship” is an investment device often resorted to by some developed and developing nations, guided by the fundamental principle of guarding against corruption and exploitation by criminal elements. Framing and implementation of laws are, therefore, expected to have as core features length of prior residence status as well as adherence to taxation requirements.
It has been the experience within CARICOM that a minimum of between five to seven years permanent residence is required by a non-national for approval of citizenship. Erosion of such a policy, prior to the initiative being pursued by Antigua and Barbuda, had started in Dominica and St Kitts and Nevis, with variations in terms of prior resident status, categories and levels of investment.
In the case of Antigua and Barbuda, domestic controversies are focused primarily on provisions of the Economic Citizenship Investment Act 2012 that make it possible for a foreigner to attain citizenship within a fortnight of staying in the country and having made prior “investment” payments as identified by a “minister”, including in a “charity” of choice.
Once in possession of such a newly acquired citizenship, the investor citizen, from wherever, is legally equipped to hop from one island to another within the OECS as a “national” to take full advantage, as any national by birth, of the social and economic benefits outlined in the rights of establishment provisions of the Revised CARICOM Treaty.
While it may be quite favourable to do so within prevailing arrangements among some countries of the OECS, it could hardly be embraced by the rest of CARICOM, mindful of existing jurisdictional rights and whose immigration and customs services are likely to come under pressure to more carefully scrutinize the passports of foreign nationals issued within the OECS.
A disturbing factor is that once a non-CARICOM national is issued with a passport from an OECS partner state on the basis of “economic citizenship” arrangements of convenience, he/she could repeat such an arrangement in another country within the sub-region for which accountability could be quite elusive and in stark comparison to what’s legally expected of Community citizens by birth.