How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the St. Kitts and Nevis (SKN) programme and work of the Citizenship by Investment Unit?

St. Kitts and Nevis has been far more resilient than most countries in the world in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic because of tough decisions taken early on to protect the population from the spread of the disease and because of those early decisions the country’s economy is in a stronger position to bounce back from it. CBI applications have remained steady throughout 2020, helped by the fact that to date there have been zero deaths or hospitalisations from the virus. Initiatives were put in place to make it more affordable to obtain citizenship through the Sustainable Growth Fund for a limited time up to 30 December 2020. The donation amount was temporarily reduced to US$150,000 from US$195,000 for a family of four persons. This is a US$45,000 saving.

What are the main benefits and attractions of citizenship in St. Kitts and Nevis?

St. Kitts and Nevis is a very pleasant place to live and work. The climate is pleasant year-round and setting up a business and working in SKN is quite straightforward. There is no personal income tax. The island is a very stable democracy and crime is relatively low. Modern healthcare facilities have been opened with planned expansions actively underway. Education is free in all public schools on the island and there are also private and international schools for families that migrate to the Federation with their children who desire more options.  

What are the biggest hurdles investors face when applying for the programme?

The biggest obstacle that investors face is first of all ensuring that they have the economic means to apply to be citizens of St. Kitts and Nevis. Although there may be attractive offers to obtain citizenship, applicants must provide proof that they are able to financially support themselves and their family and that they have sufficient funds to meet the minimum investment requirements for the programme (US$150,000 – US$200,000).  

It goes without saying that persons who have a criminal background or are being actively investigated for any criminal activity will not be approved by the Citizenship by Investment Unit. The background check is thorough. This process is necessary to ensure the integrity of our programme. The expression “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch”
is very relevant in this regard.

Why do you think the programme is so attractive for investors?

The programme was the first of this kind in the world. SKN is the pioneer
of citizenship by investment programmes. Our country launched this programme in 1984 and the model has been copied by many jurisdictions around the world.

It has had its challenges in the past but has been able to withstand the test of time and continues to grow and strengthen. Our Citizenship by Investment Unit has also become known for the efficient processing of applications in a timely manner and this is extremely beneficial as applicants like to have a sense of certainty in relation to the length of time for the process. On average applications are processed in three months or less.  

The strength of our passport, which allows visa free travel to over 150 countries, is also an appealing factor for potential investors, however, this in my opinion should not be the main selling point. What a country has to offer within its borders should be the driving force and St. Kitts and Nevis has plenty to offer. Real estate options in the Federation are very appealing and coupled with my earlier response to the question on the benefits and attractions of SKN citizenship, one can see why our programme has remained sustainable.

What are the tax advantages of being a citizen of St Kitts and Nevis?

Whilst there is no personal income tax in SKN,  the Government is currently revising its laws and engaging in consultations to undergo corporate tax reform aimed at attracting more commercial businesses to directly set up and operate on the twin-island.

The world has changed considerably over the last few years and with the aggressive work being done internationally to counter tax evasion, it is incumbent upon us as a responsible country to do more to attract real “economic substance” and qualified personnel to our shores and not encourage ‘empty shell-type’ company registrations on our books.
This will in turn bring more suitably qualified persons who want to work and live in St. Kitts and Nevis.

The programme has been in existence since 1984. Is longevity and stability an asset for investors looking at their options?

Yes, this is definitely an asset. One prefers to go to a doctor with many more years of experience rather than going to a recent graduate. The same is true for citizenship programmes. Persons prefer to apply in a country which has a tried and tested programme.

What are the various routes to St. Kitts and Nevis citizenship?

Purchasing an approved property for a minimum of US$400,000 or a share in an approved property for US$200,000.

Contribution to the Sustainable Growth Fund (SGF). The usual qualifying contribution to the SGF: US$195,000 for an applicant with up to three family members. The limited time discounted option has been extended until
15 January 2021: US$150,000 for an applicant with up to three family
member dependents. 

Investment through any of the aforementioned routes qualifies one to apply for citizenship in SKN. The investment alone, however, does not entitle someone to citizenship. There is an application and a very thorough background check process on all applicants. This is to ensure that only persons of good repute are allowed to obtain citizenship in St. Kitts and Nevis.

Can you briefly explain the screening and due diligence processes for applicants?

Background checks are done by independent due diligence companies to verify the identity of applicants, their source of funds, their family, business associates and other connections. These checks are done by third party companies and not by the government directly. All of the information provided by applicants is verified by these agencies discreetly. The Citizenship by Investment Unit does its own analysis of the information provided by applicants and the reports that come back from the Due Diligence Companies to determine whether a person is deemed acceptable for approval. Once all information is corroborated and there are no red flags, such as blacklists or sanctions that come up against the applicant or any flags for criminal conduct, their application would be approved.  

Are there any nationalities that are excluded from the programme?

Yes. Persons from sanctioned countries are not permitted to apply due to the associated risks involved with obtaining funds from those jurisdictions and in some cases obtaining verifiable documents. In many cases it is difficult for our external due diligence companies to carry out their discreet investigations on persons from these countries.  

How do you see the future of SKN generally, and the investment programme in particular? Do we need any reforms or changes to the current programme?

SKN may be the youngest independent country in the Eastern Caribbean, but it is also a high-income country unlike many of its neighbours, reflecting the ingenuity and industriousness of its people in the past decades. The nation continues to diversify its economy, refusing to rely solely on tourism and one or two industries, and there is no reason why that growth should not continue in the future. The St. Kitts Nevis CBI programme is always evolving and improving itself and I expect it will continue to be successful because, unlike some other programmes, it remains absolutely focused on the highest standards when it comes to due diligence, processing efficiency and other important metrics, which will serve it very well in the future.

How can you help clients with an application?

Citizenship by Investment cannot be obtained by clients submitting applications directly to the Citizenship by Investment Unit. A licensed authorised service provider must submit applications for citizenship on behalf of all applicants. My firm has been an authorised service provider for citizenship by investment for the last 10 years and it is also an authorised corporate services provider, which enables us to set up companies and foundations in St. Kitts. We have helped many clients through the CBI process.

Success of an application is 100% dependent on the background of the applicant. Pre-screening is done by us before on-boarding clients. Clients need to be transparent and forthright with all information at the on-boarding stage to ensure that no roadblocks are discovered during the processing of their application by the CIU.

For more information please contact shawnalake@slservicesltd.com