Citizenship for sale - JAMPRO finalising programme to make big investors Jamaican citizens
Jamaica's main investment vehicle, JAMPRO, has confirmed that the Government is looking to implement a residency through investment programme.
This could see special immigration status given to wealthy foreigners who agree to make a sizable investment in the island.
The JAMPRO confirmation came days after Bloomberg Business Magazine reported that Jamaica is in talks with Swiss lawyer Christian Kalin who was the architect of similar citizenship by investment programmes in St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and St Lucia.
While denying that JAMPRO had direct talks with Kalin, Claude Duncan, vice-president for investment and promotion at JAMPRO, said discussions regarding a residence by investment programme were well advanced.
"What we are looking at is economic residence which is a distinct difference from what St Kitts has done. A lot of consultation has taken place between us and
the Passport Immigration and Citizenship Agency and the other relevant agencies in order to avoid the pitfalls which have affected other jurisdictions," said Duncan.
"But we are now at the point where a Cabinet submission on the matter is ready, and we are hoping that this will be included as one of the planks of overall immigration reform," added Duncan.
While arguing that Jamaica could derive numerous economic benefits from a well managed economic residency programme, Duncan asserted that it would not be a carte blanche sale of Jamaican passports to wealthy foreigners, as persons would need to pass numerous background and security checks before becoming eligible for the programme.
"That is where our programme would differ from say a St Kitts because what previously happened was that St Kitts' citizens could just arrive in Canada without the need for a visa. The moment they started selling citizenship, so to speak, that was reversed, because countries like the United States and Britain that are usually concerned about their security would heighten their monitoring of certain countries where anyone can just buy a passport and extra scrutiny of Jamaican nationals at overseas ports is definitely something we are extremely wary of," explained Duncan.
The JAMPRO executive added that the way in which Jamaica will treat the potential foreign investment is a key factor that was explored during the agency's consultative process.
"Without getting into specifics we also wanted to ensure that the investment is of maximum benefit to the country, because in some countries the investor would be required to basically sets aside up to US$500,000 that can not be touched by him or her for about 10 years, and it would go into a capital fund which provides funding for other projects.
"Where as in others the investment has to be in the form of a real estate purchase, which could be just a house in the country, so we are looking at investment projects that make maximum impact," said Duncan.
The St Kitts and Nevis Govern-ment was the first regional state to initiate a citizenship by investment programme in 2006, offering wealthy investors a passport that would guarantee visa free travel to more than 100 countries around the world, for a minimum investment of US$250,000.
Last year Minister of Transport and Works Dr Omar Davies announced that Chinese investors in the Goat Islands project could eventually seek Jamaican citizenship. However, Davies did not provide details.
With the confirmation from JAMPRO, opposition spokesperson on industry and investment, Karl Samuda, declined to comment on the issue as he said the Jamaica Labour Party had not come to a position on the proposal.
However, member of parliament for western Portland, Daryl Vaz, who last year called for the introduction of a similar program to the one in St Kitts has already endorsed the proposal.
"I am extremely supportive of it and my view has not changed at all. Right now, Jamaica needs to do everything it can to stimulate investment and create jobs. So, if this will help to do that then I am behind it one hundred per cent," Vaz told our news team late last week.