The Passport Trade

Variopassport tradeus countries offer programs where wealthy individuals can obtain citizenship or residency, and a passport, through investment. The United States, Britain, Austria and Canada all have investor visa programs. Canada’s program began back in 1986. It was modified in 2010 when the investment amount required increased to CAD$800K. The U.S. EB-5 provides a VISA and fast track to citizenship in exchange for a $1 million investment in a business employing at least 10 people, or a $500,000 contribution to an economically depressed area.

 

The Caribbean is awash with countries offering passports: Antigua and Barbados have launched citizenship programs to boost sinking revenues; St Kitts and Dominica have been in the passport selling business for years.

 

The obvious concern is that a clean, legitimate passport could get into the hands of a criminal or terrorist, and aid their international passage. St Kitts allows applicants to apply by mail although a spokesman for the program insists that applicants are vetted. After Iranian students stormed the British Embassy in Teheran, St Kitts (a former British colony) closed the program to Iranian applicants. Dominica requires that an applicant do an in person interview. There are no data as to exactly how many investor passports these countries have issued.

 

There have been recent reports that due to heightened unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, i.e. Arab Spring and related, interest in secondary passports has risen. Legitimate businessmen seek such a passport in the hopes of hassle free travel.

 

One news item on the subject highlighted the case of businessman Hadi Mezawi, a Palestinian living in the United Arab Emirates who paid $100,000 for a Dominican passport. He explained that given the volatile politics in the region, he feels safer having a passport he can travel with, hassle free – not only internationally but within the Middle East. The assumption is that traveling with a Dominica passport would provoke less attention from aviation security authorities than would traveling with a Saudi Arabian, Egyptian or Emirati passport.

 

The ease with which these passports can be acquired is of concern if and when they are destined for use by criminals and terrorists. As it happens, there are many other (illegitimate) ways to obtain a passport:

 

  • Alter (change out the photo) of a valid passport that was purchased or stolen.
  • Purchase a valid passport from a corrupt government official.
  • Buy a passport on the black market.
  • Get a counterfeit passport.
  • Falsify support documents (birth certificate) to acquire an authentic passport.

 

There is no shortage of methods.

 

Border and transit security personnel need to examine travel documents in the largest possible context. Never has it been more important to conduct an assessment that tries to link an individual’s story to their ID. Does it make sense? Terrorists with solid financial backing and an astute network could take advantage of the investment method for obtaining a passport and citizenship. Of course, not every non-native of these countries should be under suspicion. Investment passports are just one more potential indicator.

 

Read about related topic in blog, link here.

passport trade

1 Comment

  1. Vic Vogel on February 27, 2013 at 9:17 am

    I consulted on this very matter with a immigration attorney in Oklahoma back in the 1990’s. At that time there were only a few of these opportunities, and they were focused around green cards, and not so much passports. I did cultural interventions for people from china and Saudi Arabia.

    I know the investment route in the U.S. was scrutinized by the immigration department heavily. There were requirements to remain and run the business. I am not as familiar with it today, but I do know at that time we were approached with large sums of money to push through illegal papers for some people, who we rejected immediately and reported to authorities.

    I think Chameleon’s programs are on the money. They focus on predictive profiling and proactive approaches to terrorism, and crime. I think as time goes on, and terrorist become more sophisticated we will see more legal entries into the U.S. for the purpose of building terrorist sleeper cells. Once these people are inside it becomes very difficult to identify them, because they acclimate to the community and have the patience to wait a long time before activating. Predictive Profiling is the best possible solution to our internal safety as a Nation. Good article, and timely at this point. Perhaps if Congress and the President ever stop bickering they can focus on the areas to cut cost, that don’t affect our National security, e.g. Border Patrol, Immigration agents, Homeland Security, and our Military. I see a great future for people in the protection business if cuts are made to these areas.

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