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Economics of Going Green
State of Caribbean Media
Passport to Paradise
Death Sentence in 2 Years
Priest Thinks Twice
Charges & CounterCharges
Communication in Tourism
Moves to Oust Savarin
WIBC Settles with Gregory
UWP Leadership Question
Threat to State College?
Why Marpin Was Rejected
Sanford Now In Barbados
Hotels Threaten Shutdown
Urban Baron to Cross Floor
Lestrade & Stabilisation
Urban Baron Did Not Cross
PM Charles Tightens Grip
Search for New President
Tension at N.D.C.
New Independent Party?
AT & T in Dominica
Curtis Matthiew - DFP?
Sonia Williams - Indep...
SARS in Toronto, Canada
Bobby - Independent?
Casino Gambling Begins
Formal Opening of DSC
End of Douglas Dynasty?
Wage Bill Cut
DLP Want Theodore Fired
DFP Virtually Dead
PM's Fiscal Adjustment
Dr Etienne to PAHO
Relations with China?
Sam Raphael Resigns
Tour de Dominica Politics
PJ on Independence
Politics 25 Years Later
Cure For Aids Mooted
DSS Stymied by IMF
New Development at CTO
The Silent Killer
Grenada & Hurricane Ivan
Regional Tourism Security
Making Millions on Haitians
UWP Falling Apart
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Passport to Paradise Leads to Restrictions
Bridgetown, BARBADOS - December 08, CMC - The days when a Dominican or Grenadian wishing to travel to Toronto for Caribana could simply go to the travel agent, purchase a ticket and board the flight, are over. Effective last Tuesday, any Dominica or Grenadian wishing to visit Canada for any reason, must first obtain a visitor's visa. Fed up with Economic Citizenship Programmes in both countries under which citizenship is sold to non-national who can afford it, Ottawa announced last Tuesday that it was imposing visa restrictions on nationals of the two Windward Islands.
The Grenada International Financial Services Authority says justification for its programme comes from various restrictions placed on expatriates by their countries of origin. These include "limitations on economic freedom through punitive taxation" on both domestic and global income and assets, limitations on travel to other nations for political reasons and limitations on visa free entry imposed by foreign nations.
Dominica simply sells its programme as a "passport to paradise" and both boast of the number of countries their passports' holders can gain entry into without a visa. Canada is on the list presented by both. But Ottawa sees the programmes as a means which criminals gain easy access to Canada.
"These are programmes that tend to attract the kind of people that Canada does not want," Susan Burrows, Immigration Counsellor at Canada's High Commission in Port of Spain, Trinidad, told the Caribbean Media Corporation. "These programmes attract the wrong kind of people, mainly people who sometimes are involved in organised crime, sometimes trying to avoid the tax regulations of their home country, sometimes trying to avoid Canada's immigration determination system, in other words, enter Canada and make a claim to remain in Canada or go underground.
"Often the Economic Citizenship Programmes are advertised as a way to circumvent visitor visa requirements," said Burrows. Faced with rising unemployment and decreasing revenues from its main income earner, bananas, and desperate to raise funds for an international airport it promised before general elections in 1990, the then Eugenia Charles government in Dominica introduced an Economic Citizenship Programme in August 1991.
That programme targeted Asian investors and focused on attracting foreign direct investment for specific projects and programmes - hotel and resort development, agro-processing, manufacturing, housing and fisheries - in the private sector only. But the United Workers Party, which, in opposition, staged protest demonstrations against the sale of Dominica's passports when the programme was introduced, launched a re-engineered programme in May of 1996 that ran alongside the original programme.
People wishing to apply for citizenship under the re-engineered programme have two options. There's a Bond Issue under which the Government offers 15 year redeemable bonds with a nominal value of US$75,000 at 2% simple interest. The applicant pays US$15,000, then US$10,000 for the spouse, an additional US$10,000 for each child under the age of 18 and US$15,000 for each child between 18 and 25. But the more popular option is the Direct Cash Contribution option under which the investor-applicant pays US$50,000, which qualifies him, his spouse and two children under eighteen for economic citizenship. US$10,000 per child is required for children between 18 and 25 years. An additional cash contribution of US$10,000 will be required for any additional child under twenty-five.
No investment in Government bonds, in real estate, or in the form of equity participation is required under this option. The passports are sold through agents who charge the applicants "a pretty impressive" fee, according to one agent.
Grenada's programme came into existence through the Grenada Citizenship Amendment Act of 1997, which amended Grenada's original Citizenship Act. Under the programme, successful applicants obtain full voting rights after six years of residence, although few economic citizens ever visit the island. Applicants pay a standard fee of US$39,060 for a family consisting of a husband, wife and three children under the age of 25. Of that amount, about $22,000 goes to the government Treasury, while the remainder goes into an investment program that helps pay for infrastructure, health and education in Grenada.
As in Dominica's case, an agent handles the application and charges about US$11,000 for the processing and administrative work.
It's the fact that almost anyone can end up with a Dominican or Grenadian passport that worries Canada. Over the past two to three years, Ottawa has had discussions with various levels of government in both countries in a bid to get them to end the programmes.
Both the Grenada Prime Minister Keith Mitchell and Burrows confirm a meeting in July to discuss the concerns. "(We) had a very detailed discussion with Prime Minister Mitchell and explained to him that we were not happy with this programme, that we were very concerned that economic citizenship had been granted to a number of people that we had some concerns with from a security point of view, or from a point of view of money laundering..and that we hoped that the programme would be ended," the Canadian official said.
In an immediate response to the Canada announcement, Mitchell issued a statement expressing shock at the decision. "We are shocked that Canada would take this step at this time, considering all that we have done to cooperate with them and improve our programmes," the Prime Minister said. "We are aware that security concerns have mounted since September 11 and that the whole world has changed. We too have done our part and taken steps to improve various security measures in this programme and all areas of security. We certainly hope that this measure by Canada is temporary and that they will review the situation and remove the visa requirement in the not too distant future," Prime Minister Mitchell said.
But Burrows said there was more to the story than that. "The Prime Minister at that time (at the July meeting) indicated that Grenada was going to be reviewing its economic citizenship programme, there was no mention of terminating it.
"After the 11th of September there was an announcement that we are aware of that Grenada was suspending its programme. That doesn't mean termination and secondly the concern we have is the number of people who have already been issued honorary citizenship of Grenada and may be out there even if these are cancelled there is no way for this country to find out where these people are and they could still use them to travel to Canada," Borrows stated, adding that the Grenada government never even officially informed the Canadian High Commission in Bridgetown, Barbados, of its decision to suspend the programme.
The Grenada International Financial Services Authority completed a performance review of its economic citizenship programme in January and found that 249 passports were issued last year, down from 296 the year before.
But in Dominica's case, the authorities aren't sure how many passports have been issued under the re-engineered programme. The Prime Minister, Pierre Charles, whose government announced earlier this year that it was terminating the programme, blamed the previous UWP government for issuing "hundreds of passports" without due diligence. "Upon assuming office this government learnt that due diligence had not been exercised with respect to the sale of passports under the re-engineered economic citizenship programme.
"Again, I repeat that by then hundreds of passports were already in the hands of those who paid for them during the reign of the UWP government," Charles said in a statement on the decision by the Canadian government to impose visa requirements on Dominican nationals. "Although Cabinet took a decision to terminate the re-engineered economic citizenship programme, the damage to our international reputation had already been done," the Dominica leader said.
His conclusion appeared to have been supported by Burrows. "The problem we have is that Dominica had a very large number of economic citizenship passports which had been issued prior to that period (the termination of the programme) and could not come up with a complete list of people to whom those passports had been issued," Burrows told the CMC. Canada's case was strengthened early last year after Christopher Skase, who has since died, but at the time was Australia's most wanted fugitive, sought to avoid extradition from Spain by becoming a Dominican citizen. Skase had fled to Spain eight years earlier after the collapse of his Qintex media, hotel and resort empire left him with corporate debts of almost $1billion. He reportedly carried $6.5 million in cash, art and antiques. The problems for Dominica intensified after a dozen Chinese nationals, believed to be part of a smuggling network, tried entering Canada with valid Dominican passports.
But the issue of due diligence did not die with the departure of the UWP from office after the January 31, 2000 general elections. A letter dated October 22, 2001, from the Assistant Manager of the International Business Unit of the Ministry of Finance, to the Finance Minister, made it clear that the programme was continuing and that concerns about due diligence persisted.
In the letter, copied to the Prime Minister, the IBU manager, the Financial Secretary, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Immigration and Labour and the Cabinet Secretary, and a copy of which was obtained by the CMC, the official made reference to economic citizenship which was granted to a David Mehranban, an Iranian citizen, on September 20, 2001 and a Conrad Rooks, whose nationality was not stated, on September 28, 2001.
"None of the files contained due diligence reports on the applicants," the letter stated. "Mr. Mehranban is an Iranian and his application for economic citizenship was processed after the September 11th 2001 terrorist attack on the USA," it emphasised.
Critics of Canada's decision complain of double standards on the part of Ottawa, saying the Caribbean countries got the idea from countries like the United States and Canada, which run their own economic citizenship programmes. But US and Canadian officials say there is a difference between their programmes and the ones run by Dominica and Grenada. The Americans say that applicants for US citizenship are carefully screened and that the United States does not offer instant citizenship. They say the US programme applies to approved people who invest $1 million in a business employing at least 10 people or $500,000 in designated economically depressed areas. In two years, the investor can apply for permanent residence, and then must wait five more years to apply for citizenship.
The Canadian programme, referred to as the economic component of the Canadian Immigration Programme, targets certain types of skilled workers, for job creation, and for investment capital, grouped together as economic immigrants, as well as entrepreneurs, investors and the self-employed now called "business immigrants." The business investor, for example, must have successfully operated, controlled, or directed a business, and have accumulated through their own efforts a net worth of at least eight hundred thousand Canadian Dollars (US$508, 453.00). The applicant will be required to make an investment of four hundred thousand Canadian Dollars (US$254,226.00), paid to the Receiver General for Canada. And, the Canadian officials say, immigration officers at a Canadian port of entry will grant landed immigrant status after ensuring that the immigration visa is still valid.
The Grenada Prime Minister said he would write the Canadian authorities requesting that a visa office be established in St. George's to accommodate Grenadians wishing to travel to Canada.
And Dominica's Pierre Charles said his government was working feverishly to ensure that the decision be reversed in the not too distant future.
But Burrows said the chances of either happening ranged from slim to none, meaning that for the foreseeable future, any Dominican or Grenadian who wants to be part of Caribana, will have to add "get a visa" to the "things to do" list.