Various 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.
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