The EU Steps Up Pressure on Cushy Caribbean ‘Golden Passports’

So-called “golden passports” for five Caribbean countries are under increasing political pressure from the EU, according to Bloomberg.

Aerial photo of Grand Anse Beach in Grenada, Caribbean
Photo by Hugh Whyte via Unsplash

Sign up for smart news, insights, and analysis on the biggest financial stories of the day.

In the Caribbean, you’ll find plenty of sunshine and the best passports money can buy.

Citizenship-by-investment (CBI) programs, also known as “golden passports,” for five Caribbean countries — St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Grenada, and Antigua and Barbuda — are under increasing political pressure from the EU, according to a Wednesday report from Bloomberg. For the EU, it’s a matter of closing off avenues for criminals who want to bury their treasure in a suitably tropical locale. But for the countries themselves, the visas represent a vital inflow of capital. 

Paradise Passports

CBI programs are pretty simple: invest a certain amount of money in a country, and you get a passport plus the citizenship that comes with it. It’s not a new phenomenon, although it attracted a little more attention post-pandemic. St. Kitts was the first to start the practice in 1984, a year after its independence from Britain. Kristin Surak, a political sociologist at the London School of Economics, told Vox last June that the programs were a way for similar post-colonial Caribbean nations to bolster their new economies.

The cost of golden passports varies from country to country. St. Lucia sets the bar at $100,000, while St. Kitts charges $250,000. But the EU’s specific worry is that the setup allows citizens visa-free travel to Europe. With citizenship on sale, that can open the door to people who have a lot of money, but a slightly… suspicious past:

  • An analysis from The Guardian last October found that sales of Dominica’s golden passports spiked after the country gained visa-free access to the EU in 2015. The Guardian also found that beneficiaries of the program included a former Afghan spymaster and a Turkish millionaire convicted of fraud.
  • The EU has stated that it’s worried the programs can facilitate fraud and money-laundering, and said in October that it would introduce more stringent rules around travel to Europe from those countries.

For the Caribbean countries themselves, the CBI programs represent a hefty boost to official coffers. Per Bloomberg, more than 50% of St. Kitts’ and Dominica’s respective government revenues come from golden passport sales.

Portuguese Passport o’ War: The scrutiny isn’t just limited to the Caribbean. Portugal, itself an EU member state, this week tightened the rules on its own CBI program, scrapping the option for gaining citizenship by investing in real estate. The country originally said it would dismantle the program entirely after it took some heat for being a contributing cause to a housing crisis. However, it has since softened its stance, and prospective Portuguese citizens can still plug a minimum €500,000 ($548,000) straight into investment funds.