Nestor Alfred was appointed CEO of St Lucia’s Citizenship-by-Investment Unit in August 2017, leading the push for the Caribbean island state to attract foreign investors in exchange for citizenship, with St Lucia passports offering visa-free access to over 100 countries.
When did St Lucia introduce its Citizenship-by-Investment Programme (CIP), and how many people have so far taken advantage of it?
The legislation was passed in 2015 and it was opened for business in January 2016. Up until May 2020, the end of the last financial year, a total of 558 applicants had been granted citizenship, with the main regions being the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.
Over the four years the programme has been in operation, the rejection rate has been approximately 9.36% of total applications received.
How has Covid-19 affected the programme, number of applications, and the overall process?
The current pandemic has had a positive impact on the programme, and between March 2020 and now the number of applications received has been the best since the inception of the programme. There has been absolutely no impact in the processing time, and our efficiency rate was maintained even with all our staff working remotely. The sturdiness of our online processing platform has been well proven.
The change in the global citizenship-by-investment landscape has been profound during the Covid-19 pandemic, where we saw applications from the United States leading the way in regard to applications received for the 2020/2021 fiscal year.
We’ve also seen a significant uptake of applications from Nigeria. Most of these are professionals. Nigerians who apply for this programme see no need to leave Nigeria – they have built their wealth in Nigeria, Nigeria continues to be a fertile ground for them to increase their wealth. What it does is it allows them to go to Europe, for business or on holidays with their families, it allows their children to apply for universities to go and study as a St Lucian citizen.
How much pressure is there to try to differentiate your programmes from those offered by other countries? Is there a concern that nations could cut corners in order to make themselves more appealing?
The need for countries and islands to lure applications has created a competitive environment. With the islands of the Eastern Caribbean involved in the citizenship-by-investment programmes, price reduction has been one of the main competitive approaches.
Without having conclusive evidence, it is challenging to state that countries are not following through with their internal processes for the grant of citizenship. However, St Lucia’s CIP strongly holds the position that the proper conduct of due diligence on all applicants is absolutely necessary for the integrity and viability of the programmes within the Islands.
Is it important to try to cooperate between those Caribbean island nations that offer citizenship by investment? How much progress has been made on this?
Unfortunately, the islands have not been successful in creating a formal cooperation platform to undertake the business of citizenship by investment. That being said, there exists some informal cooperation that takes place amongst the CEOs of the individual islands. The Citizenship by Investment Programmes Association (CIPA) was formed, and the agenda of the association was to encourage a level of sharing and collaboration, but this has not been entirely successful to date.
These programmes can be the lifeblood of this region. This region’s budgetary composition once entailed high levels of grants. This is no longer the case, and these islands have to think outside the box and find ways to sustain their economic development and the wellbeing of their people.
The CIP funds have already been directed towards several areas, such as agricultural diversification, the reconstruction of St Judes hospital in the south of St Lucia and a new national hospital, as well as tourism, marketing, promotion and many other areas.
What do you see the future of citizenship by investment programmes as being?
I see a future of greater collaboration and standardisation of approaches. As we speak, there are new additions of countries around the world who offer these types of programmes. I never thought Dubai would create such a programme, yet it has, with a different focus, and allows for persons to come in, invest, and get residency status.
More and more countries are doing this, whether the focus is to attract primarily professionals of significant worth, or whether it is to generate revenue.