Chapter

Chapter 7. Managing Economic Citizenship Program Inflows: Reducing Risk and Maximizing Benefits

Author(s):
Krishna Srinivasan, Inci Otker, Uma Ramakrishnan, and Trevor Alleyne
Published Date:
November 2017
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Author(s)
Judith Gold and Alla Myrvoda 

Introduction

The number of economic citizenship programs (ECPs) has surged in recent years. An increasing number of countries, especially in the Caribbean, are offering opportunities to obtain citizenship or residency in exchange for a substantial financial contribution to the domestic economy. Following recent large inflows to St. Kitts and Nevis and Dominica under these programs, three other Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) countries—Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, and St. Lucia—launched their own ECPs during 2013–15. ECPs (also referred to as citizenship-by-investment programs) are particularly attractive to small states, for which inflows can be so large as to have a significant economic and fiscal impact. An increasing number of advanced economies are also offering economic residency programs. These programs are being mainstreamed because high-net-worth individuals consider citizenship or residency to be a means for improving international mobility, tax planning, and family security while also seeking investment opportunities.

Given the shared advantages for interested individuals and host jurisdictions, ECPs are likely to continue to grow, but with important spillovers and downside risks for small states and the international community. In small states, the inflows to the private sector can have a sizable impact on economic activity, while the fiscal revenues, like other large windfall revenues from abroad, can be quite substantial. In St. Kitts and Nevis and Dominica, the inflows have led to an improvement in the fiscal outcome, facilitated repayment of debt, and spurred economic growth. However, poor management of the revenue upsurge could exacerbate vulnerabilities. If large and persistent, investment and fiscal flows may lead to adverse macro-economic consequences associated with Dutch disease, including higher inflation and loss of competitiveness, and the crowding out of other private sector activity. Moreover, program inflows may be subject to sudden-stop risk related to rapid changes in advanced economies’ immigration policies. Finally, if not administered with due diligence, ECPs can lead to security breaches and possibly facilitate illicit activities such as tax evasion and money laundering, raising concerns for the international community and exposing the host jurisdiction to reputational risks.

This chapter reviews recent experience with ECPs in the Caribbean, discusses their macroeconomic implications, and proposes a prudent management framework. Such a framework would aim to save the bulk of the inflows to the public sector—improving the fiscal and external positions—as well as regulate inflows to the private sector. The chapter addresses the importance of adopting a strong institutional and governance framework to prevent possible abuse of such programs. Large and persistent inflows may warrant a dedicated mechanism to manage large savings, including through a sovereign wealth fund (SWF). The chapter is organized as follows: The next section provides an overview of recent developments in the economic citizenship domain and discusses selected ECPs. The following two sections discuss macroeconomic implications and the risk associated with ECP inflows, and are followed by a section that proposes the appropriate policy response to address risks in each sector. The final section concludes.

The Nature and Scope of ECPS

Many economic citizenship or residency programs around the world provide citizenship or residency in exchange for substantial financial transfers. Programs vary substantially in their design, conditions, and cost (see Table 7.1). However, they all either allow direct citizenship or provide a route to citizenship in return for a sizable financial transfer, which can be in the form of an investment in the economy or a contribution to the public sector. Small states, like those in the Caribbean, offer a direct route to citizenship without, or on the basis of very limited, residency requirements. Advanced economies such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States have had “immigrant investor programs” dating back from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s.1 These programs grant residency status leading to citizenship in return for substantial investment, either in public debt instruments (as in Canada) or in the private sector.2 All of these programs purport to stimulate growth and employment by attracting more foreign capital and investment by way of offering citizenship or residency status to high-net-worth individuals.

Table 7.1.Selected Citizenship- and Residency-by-Investment Programs Worldwide
CountryInception YearMinimum Investment1Residency Requirements2Citizenship Qualifying Period3
Citizenship ProgramsAntigua and Barbuda2013US$250,0005 days within a 5-year periodImmediate
Cyprus2011€2.5 millionNo (under revision)Immediate
Dominica1993US$100,000NoImmediate
Grenada2014US$250,000NoImmediate
Malta2014€1.15 million6 monthsOne year
St. Kitts and Nevis1984US$250,000NoImmediate
St. Lucia2016US$100,000NoImmediate
Residency ProgramsAustralia2012$A 5 million40 days/year5 years
Bulgaria2009€500,000No5 years
Canada4,5Mid-1980sCan$800,000730 days within a 5-year period3 years
Canada-Quebec5n.a.Can$800,000730 days within a 5-year period3 years
France2013€10 millionn.a.5 years
Greece2013€250,000No7 years
Hungary2013€250,000No8 years
Ireland2012€500,000Non.a.
Latvia2010€35,000No10 years
New Zealandn.a.$NZ 1.5 million146 days/year5 years
Portugal2012€500,0007 days/year6 years
Singaporen.a.S$2.5 millionNo2 years
Spain2013€500,000No10 years
Switzerlandn.a.Sw F 250,000/yearNo12 years
United Kingdom1994£1 million185 days/year6 years
United States1990US$500,000180 days/year7 years
Sources: Arton Capital; Country authorities; Henley and Partners; U.K. Migration Advisory Committee Report; and other immigration services providers.Note: n.a. = not applicable or not available.

Alternative investment options may be eligible.

Explicit minimum residency requirements under immigrant investor schemes; residency criteria to qualify for citizenship may differ.

Including the qualification period for permanent residency under residency programs.

Program suspended since February 2014.

Although not specific to the immigrant investor program, retaining permanent residency requires physical presence of 730 days within a five-year period.

Sources: Arton Capital; Country authorities; Henley and Partners; U.K. Migration Advisory Committee Report; and other immigration services providers.Note: n.a. = not applicable or not available.

Alternative investment options may be eligible.

Explicit minimum residency requirements under immigrant investor schemes; residency criteria to qualify for citizenship may differ.

Including the qualification period for permanent residency under residency programs.

Program suspended since February 2014.

Although not specific to the immigrant investor program, retaining permanent residency requires physical presence of 730 days within a five-year period.

The number of countries offering such programs, including in the Caribbean, has increased markedly recently. During 2013–15, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, and Malta launched new citizenship programs, while Grenada revived its previously retired program. Several European countries, including France, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain, have also recently introduced new residency programs by way of a significant investment. About half of the European Union member states now have dedicated immigrant investor routes.3 These residency visas, dubbed the “Golden Visa” following the Portuguese program that carries the name, allow recipients access to all 26 Schengen countries.4 Furthermore, some countries are also revising their existing programs to improve their competitiveness and appeal, while others are trying to increase the programs’ potential economic or fiscal contributions (MAC 2014).5 Cyprus amended its program to provide more investment options, including in government bonds, bank deposits, and other financial instruments, in addition to its original real estate or other private investment option. In the Caribbean, Dominica recently introduced a real estate investment option in addition to its original requirement of a direct contribution to the government and subsequently lowered government fees for the real estate investment option, while St. Lucia has reduced the minimum required investment.

The launch of new citizenship programs in the Caribbean has intensified competition, creating pressure to ease conditions (IMF 2016). After peaking in 2014, inflows to St. Kitts and Nevis weakened in 2015 and declined further in 2016; meanwhile, applicants’ preferences continued to shift further toward the real estate option. Inflows to Antigua and Barbuda, after the initial surge following introduction of the program, fell in 2016. Inflows to Dominica surged on account of very competitive conditions and extensive marketing activities, which cost the equivalent of 1.1 percent of GDP in fiscal year 2015/16. Demand growth in Grenada has remained steady but relatively modest, while the newly established program in St. Lucia met with only limited success in its first year of operation owing to its relatively high pricing and political uncertainty in an election year (IMF, forthcoming).6

The surge in interest in these programs may reflect a combination of growing wealth in emerging markets and an increase in global uncertainties and security issues. The increasing number of high-net-worth individuals outside advanced economies would appear to be the critical factor on the demand side. The main reasons for the rise in demand from this group include (1) the desire for easier travel (see Figure 7.1) in the face of growing travel restrictions and encumbrances for nationals of non-advanced economies after the September 11, 2001, attacks; (2) the search for a safe haven in the context of a deteriorating geopolitical climate and increased security concerns; and (3) other considerations, such as estate and tax planning (Xu, El-Ashram, and Gold 2015).7 Although accurate statistics are sparse, press reports and observations of trends in several countries indicate a surge in clients from China, followed by Russia, along with a steady rise in investors from the Middle East, although to a much lesser degree.8 In Antigua and Barbuda, for instance, Chinese applicants were by far the largest share of passport recipients (41 percent), followed by investors from Lebanon and Russia (about 5 percent each of total applicants) (Figure 7.2).

Figure 7.1.Visa-Free Access of Selected Countries with an ECP

(Index)

Source: The Henley & Partners Visa Restriction Index 2016.

Note: ECP = economic citizenship program. A higher ranking reflects a higher number of countries accessible without a visa.

Figure 7.2.Antigua and Barbuda: Number of ECP Applications by Country of Birth

(Percent of total, program inception through 2016)

Sources: Country authorities; and IMF staff estimates and calculations.

Note: ECP = economic citizenship program.

1 “Other” includes countries with less than 2 percent of total in each category.

Citizens from advanced economies also represent an important share of applicants to some citizenship programs, and are generally motivated by more generous tax regimes. For instance, ECP passport recipients in Antigua and Barbuda originating from Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Western Europe jointly accounted for more than 9 percent of total applicants since program inception through the end of 2016. Many small states have historically acted as tax havens, offering low or zero tax rates on personal or corporate income, secrecy laws on banking, and few or no restrictions on financial transactions. Some ECPs have marketed their country’s favorable tax treatment to attract high-net-worth clients seeking global tax planning benefits. This strategy includes countries in the Caribbean as well as several European Union (EU) members that offer relatively more favorable tax treatment within the EU to resident firms and individuals.9,10 However, tax havens have come under increasing pressure from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Group of Twenty to share tax and banking information to combat international tax avoidance, money laundering, and the financing of terrorism. Thus, the use of citizenship or residency investor schemes for purposes of tax avoidance may become more difficult as more advanced economies adopt anti-avoidance provisions in their tax legislation and enact financial transparency laws similar to the U.S. Foreign Account Ta x Compliance Act. Increased reporting requirements by foreign financial institutions has made it harder for U.S. taxpayers to conceal assets in offshore accounts. In the Caribbean economies with ECPs, FATCA Model 1 Intergovernmental Agreements have become operational in St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Lucia, and have been signed by Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada, while an agreement in substance is in place in Dominica.11

The rise in demand has coincided with, or perhaps has been in response to, an increase in service providers. Several international firms are now providing legal and other services to individuals, facilitating the process of obtaining a second passport or a residency visa. These firms hold frequent conferences around the world, providing a forum for discussion and marketing among interested clients and intermediaries. The firms offer comparative analyses of the relative merits of various programs and provide a rating system. Some of these firms also have close relationships with ECP countries, advising them on the design and administration of such programs. The Investment Migration Council, based in Geneva, was launched in October 2014 by a group of service providers to assist in setting high quality standards for their services and to facilitate further growth and expansion of this industry (Xu, El-Ashram, and Gold 2015).

The Macroeconomic Impact of ECP Inflows

ECPs generate a variety of inflows. Depending on the program, there are mainly three types of inflows: (1) contributions to the government relating to registration or application fees, as well as fees to cover processing and due diligence costs; (2) nonrefundable contributions to government or quasi-government funds (such as national development funds [NDFs]); and (3) investments in the private or public sector, which can often be sold or redeemed after a specific time (Figure 7.3). Investments in the private sector are mainly in the form of real estate, but can also be in other government-approved projects. Some ECPs also include options for buying public debt instruments. Programs can consist of just one of these options, or any combination of them. For example, in Dominica, until recently, the ECP allowed only for contributions to the government.

Figure 7.3.Inflows under Citizenship-by-Investment Programs

The growth in ECP-associated inflows to the Caribbean has already had important consequences. Region-wide on-budget ECP inflows in the Caribbean increased from virtually zero in 2007 to a peak of 5.1 percent of regional GDP (excluding St. Lucia) in 2015 (Figure 7.4).12 St. Kitts and Nevis’s and Dominica’s ECPs—the oldest Caribbean programs, established in 1984 and 1993, respectively—experienced a surge starting in 2010. In St. Kitts and Nevis, ECP receipts, largely in the form of fees to the budget, increased from less than 1 percent of GDP in 2008 to a peak of 14 percent of GDP in 2014, followed by a gradual deceleration to an estimated 7 percent of GDP in 2016 (Figure 7.5). Inflows to Dominica remained more moderate until recent efforts to promote the program and to allow real estate development, leading to on-budget ECP revenue estimates of 9.5 percent of GDP in 2016 (Figure 7.6). In addition to budget contributions and private sector inflows into real estate development, a significant portion of ECP inflows is accumulated off budget. In St. Kitts and Nevis, for instance, ECP inflows to the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation (SIDF) were equivalent to another 5 percent of GDP in 2016. In Dominica, recorded off-budget revenues equated to about 12 percent of GDP in fiscal year 2015/16. Inflows under some of the newer programs in the region also have been sizable and macro-relevant (IMF, forthcoming).

Figure 7.4.ECP Fiscal Revenues—On Budget

Sources: Country authorities; and IMF staff calculations.

Note: ECP = economic citizenship program; SIDF = Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation.

1 ECP fiscal revenues as a share of the total nominal GDP of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, and St. Kitts and Nevis. May include projected figures for 2016 because fiscal year duration varies. Excludes estimates for St. Lucia due to small size.

2 Figure for Grenada includes National Transformation Fund.

3 Data shown in fiscal years. May include projected figures for 2016 because fiscal year duration varies.

4 On-budget flows exclude SIDF contribution to St. Kitts and Nevis, which is added for comparison.

Figure 7.5.St. Kitts and Nevis: ECP Inflows and Fiscal Balance

(Percent of GDP)

Sources: St. Kitts and Nevis authorities; and IMF staff estimates.

Note: ECP = economic citizenship program; SIDF = Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation. Data shown in fiscal years. Projected figure for fiscal year 2016.

Figure 7.6.Dominica: ECP Inflows and Fiscal Balance

(Percent of GDP)

Sources: Dominica authorities; and IMF staff estimates.

Note: ECP = economic citizenship program. Data shown in fiscal years. Projected figure for fiscal year 2016.

The macroeconomic impact of the inflows depends on the design of the program, the magnitude of the inflows, and their management. In small states, large ECP inflows could have significant spillovers to nearly every sector. Although comprehensive data are not readily available, as noted above, the inflows to St. Kitts and Nevis and Dominica have had sizable benefits. Programs with private investment options could have a direct real sector impact, particularly on the construction and real estate sectors, including through the development of tourist accommodation. Contributions to the government and to the NDF, when spent or invested, could also affect the real economy. At the same time, to the extent that contributions to the public sector are saved, they can yield measurable improvements in key macroeconomic balances, in particular the fiscal balance. The external accounts are also affected, mainly the capital account, which would benefit from increased private capital transfers (contributions to NDFs) and foreign direct investment (ECP-related real estate investment).

Significant ECP inflows have supported economic recovery in some of the Caribbean economies. The large inflows to St. Kitts and Nevis and Dominica, and to a lesser extent to Antigua and Barbuda, are a significant share of GDP, affecting aggregate demand. In St. Kitts and Nevis, these inflows have benefited real estate and tourism development, and fueled a pickup in construction, thereby stimulating economic activity. This impact, combined with the authorities’ efforts to boost employment through the public employment program, helped lower the unemployment rate in St. Kitts and Nevis to well below the Caribbean average. In Dominica, public capital investment financed by ECP inflows continues to provide a significant source of funding to infrastructure rehabilitation after Tropical Storm Erika;13 meanwhile, several large-scale projects partly funded by ECP inflows are expected to underpin improved medium-term growth prospects (Guerson and others, forthcoming).

ECP inflows in the Caribbean have facilitated significant budgetary outlays while improving fiscal balances. St. Kitts and Nevis saved a large share of ECP receipts and SIDF income, and also prepaid a portion of its external debt while still accommodating support to the budget (including by SIDF transfers to the budget). The country’s overall fiscal surplus rose to more than 12 percent of GDP in 2013, one of the highest in the world. Moreover, at the end of 2016, accumulated central government deposits totaled about 29 percent of GDP, and additional SIDF assets were an estimated 20 percent of GDP. In Dominica, ECP receipts have provided an important source of funding for the authorities to implement their budget priorities. Since Tropical Storm Erika, ECP funds have largely been used for reconstruction and debt servicing. Specifically, the largest outlay helped finance the post-Erika emergency infrastructure works at the Douglas Charles Airport, while a significant share of ECP revenues helped finance the National Employment Program. Dominica’s authorities also intend to save a portion of future ECP inflows in a vulnerability fund. In accordance with legislation in Grenada, funds have been used to pay budgetary arrears, accumulate savings in the contingency fund, and finance investment projects.14 In St. Lucia, the authorities intend to save the proceeds from the citizenship program in an SWF and use the fund to finance capital projects and to repurchase debt, but as noted earlier inflows to date have been very modest.

Large program inflows can also have a significant impact on a country’s external accounts. The budgetary revenues can improve the country’s current account deficit, substantially so if they are saved, and the capital account can be strengthened by external transfers to development funds and higher foreign direct investment. But increased domestic spending as a result of higher government expenditures and investment will substantially boost imports, particularly in small open economies, offsetting some of the initial improvement in the balance of payments.

Large ECP inflows can also boost bank liquidity, especially if the bulk of the budgetary receipts are saved in the banking system. For instance, by the end of 2016 ECP inflows to St. Kitts and Nevis and Dominica contributed to the buildup of government deposits in the banking system of more than 29 percent and 26 percent of GDP, respectively (Figure 7.7). Although some improvement in bank liquidity is welcome, the small size of the economies and limited lending opportunities and undiversified options for credit expansion will put pressure on bank profitability and asset liability management. This may also manifest itself in a sizable increase in net foreign assets as banks seek alternative channels for investment.15

Figure 7.7.Banking System Liquidity

(Percent of GDP)

Sources: Country authorities; Eastern Caribbean Central Bank; and IMF staff estimates.

Potential Risks of ECP Inflows

Inflows under ECP programs are potentially volatile and may be vulnerable to sudden-stop risks, exacerbating macroeconomic vulnerabilities in small states. The underlying asset generating these inflows is the visa-free access or residency rights granted to foreign investors through the program, the potential loss of which could trigger a sudden stop. For example, a change of visa policy in advanced economies is a significant risk that can suddenly diminish the appeal of these programs and, if concerted action is taken, can even lead to the suspension of their operation. Increasing competition from similar programs in other countries or a decline in demand from source countries can also rapidly reduce the number of applicants.

The potential volatility of inflows can generate a host of real, fiscal, external, and financial sector vulnerabilities, while the risk of sudden stop presents yet another challenge to small states. These countries already face higher volatility in economic growth and fiscal revenues, well above the world average, reflecting their higher risk of natural disasters and the openness of their economies (Figure 7.8).

Figure 7.8.Magnitude and Volatility of GDP Growth

Sources: IMF, World Economic Outlook; and IMF staff estimates.

Note: Red markers refer to selected small state economies with economic citizenship programs.

Indeed, there are early signs of a “race to the bottom.” As noted earlier, Dominica amended its program requirements by lowering the government fee applicable to the real estate investment option to stimulate hotel development. Subsequently, in December 2016, Dominica lowered the government contribution fee for the real estate investment option.16 St. Lucia has also eased the conditions for access to its citizenship program (Table 7.2), substantially reducing the cost to make the program more competitive and generate more revenue.17 This action puts the conditions of St. Lucia’s citizenship program broadly on par with that of Dominica, and may generate additional demand, but it may also attract investors who otherwise would have invested in the other Caribbean ECPs. Regardless, it is unlikely that the ECP in St. Lucia will become as important a source of revenue as are the programs in Dominica and St. Kitts and Nevis owing to the much larger size of the St. Lucian economy (Figure 7.9).

Table 7.2.Investment Requirements of Economic Citizenship Programs in the Caribbean1(U.S. dollars)
Option IOption II
Government Fee andContribution to National Development FundGovernment Fee andRedeemable Investment2
Type of ApplicationSingle ApplicantFamilySingle ApplicantFamilySingle ApplicantFamilySingle ApplicantFamily
Antigua and Barbuda350,000150,000200,000200,00050,000150,000Real estate: 400,000 Business: 1,500,000Real estate: 400,000 Business: 1,500,000
Dominica4100,000200,00025,00075,000Real estate: 200,000Real estate: 200,000
Grenada200,000200,00050,00050,000Real estate: 350,000Real estate: 350,000
St. Kitts and Nevis5250,000300,00050,000125,000Real estate: 400,000Real estate: 400,000
St. Lucia6100,000190,00050,00050,000Government bonds: 500,000Government bonds: 550,000
Sources: Arton Capital; Citizenship-by-Investment Units Guidelines; Country authorities; and Henley and Partners.

Depicts minimum investment requirements for single versus family applications (a couple with up to two dependents under the age of 18). Additional due diligence and processing fees apply.

For most programs, a minimum holding period of five years is required for redeemable investment options. Assets may be eligible for resale to future applicants under the citizenship-by-investment program.

A limited time offer that remained valid from the launch of the program in 2013 through year-end April 2016 allowed for a flat government processing fee of US$100,000 for a family of four, waiving the processing fees for the two dependents.

Dominica amended program requirements effective December 2016. Changes include higher age limit of young dependents and lower government fees for real estate investment option.

Although an explicit government application fee is not required in the national development fund option of St. Kitts and Nevis, about 25 percent of the contribution is retained by the government as budgetary fees.

Business investment must fall under one of the following categories: specialty restaurants; cruise ports and marinas; agro-processing plants; pharmaceutical products; ports, bridges, roads, and highways; research institutions and facilities; or off-shore universities. In early 2017, St. Lucia made an announcement to change its program requirements. The required contribution to the economic fund was reduced from US$200,000 to US$100,000 for single applicants, and from US$250,000 to US$190,000 for a family (applicant with a spouse and up to two dependents). The cap of 500 citizenships per year was removed. An administrative fee of US$50,000 was introduced for the bond option. The remaining two options were left unchanged.

Sources: Arton Capital; Citizenship-by-Investment Units Guidelines; Country authorities; and Henley and Partners.

Depicts minimum investment requirements for single versus family applications (a couple with up to two dependents under the age of 18). Additional due diligence and processing fees apply.

For most programs, a minimum holding period of five years is required for redeemable investment options. Assets may be eligible for resale to future applicants under the citizenship-by-investment program.

A limited time offer that remained valid from the launch of the program in 2013 through year-end April 2016 allowed for a flat government processing fee of US$100,000 for a family of four, waiving the processing fees for the two dependents.

Dominica amended program requirements effective December 2016. Changes include higher age limit of young dependents and lower government fees for real estate investment option.

Although an explicit government application fee is not required in the national development fund option of St. Kitts and Nevis, about 25 percent of the contribution is retained by the government as budgetary fees.

Business investment must fall under one of the following categories: specialty restaurants; cruise ports and marinas; agro-processing plants; pharmaceutical products; ports, bridges, roads, and highways; research institutions and facilities; or off-shore universities. In early 2017, St. Lucia made an announcement to change its program requirements. The required contribution to the economic fund was reduced from US$200,000 to US$100,000 for single applicants, and from US$250,000 to US$190,000 for a family (applicant with a spouse and up to two dependents). The cap of 500 citizenships per year was removed. An administrative fee of US$50,000 was introduced for the bond option. The remaining two options were left unchanged.

Figure 7.9.Number of Main Applicants Needed to Generate Inflows of 1 Percent of GDP1

(Percent of GDP, 2016)

Sources: Citizenship-by-Investment Units; IMF, World Economic Outlook; and IMF staff estimates and calculations.

1 Based on minimum investment requirements per country for the national development fund (NDF) and real estate options. Assumes equal weights to the composition of applications (single versus family applications). Based on 2016 figure for nominal GDP.

These inflows can also present significant fiscal management challenges. Like those caused by windfall revenues from natural resources (Gupta, Segura-Ubiergo, and Flores 2014), such revenues can increase pressure for higher government spending, including higher public sector wages, social spending, and other recurrent commitments, even though the underlying revenues may be volatile and difficult to forecast. The resulting increase in dependence on these revenues could lead to sharp fiscal adjustments or an acute increase in debt if or when the inflows diminish. Although ECP revenues in the Caribbean have largely been used for general budget financing, debt consolidation, and reconstruction after natural disasters, they have also been used to support expansion of current spending. For example, in Antigua and Barbuda, while these resources have been used for debt servicing and general financing purposes, a portion of funds—largely off budget—has been used to support the social security system and state-owned enterprises. In St. Kitts and Nevis, revenues have contributed to funding a broad spectrum of expenditures, including social programs and grants.

Poor management of ECP inflows can also pose a risk to external sustainability. Increased public and private spending will lead to growing external imbalances. Risks to the exchange rate and foreign currency reserves are also magnified as these inflows become a major source of external financing reflecting potential volatility. Rising inflation from economic overheating can also cause the real exchange rate to appreciate, lowering external competitiveness over the long term.

Large increases in banking sector liquidity can also pose risks to financial stability. Rapid buildup of deposits in the banking system, leading to a rise in liquidity, can cause a deterioration of credit standards or significant currency or maturity mismatches. Risks to financial stability may be magnified if banks face excessive exposure to construction and real estate sectors that are already propped up by investments from the ECP. In that case, a sharp decline in program inflows could prompt a correction in real estate prices, with negative implications for banks’ assets, particularly if supervision is weak.

Governance presents yet another challenge to sustainability. Cross-border security risks associated with the acquisition of a second passport are likely to be the main concern of advanced economies. Reputational risks are also magnified: weak governance in one country could easily spill over to others given that advanced economies are less likely to differentiate between citizenship programs. In addition, poor or opaque administration of programs and their associated inflows—including inadequate disclosure of the number of passports issued, revenues collected, and mechanisms governing the use of generated inflows— could prompt strong public and political resistance, complicating, or even terminating, these programs.

Significant governance and integrity challenges have emerged in the past, jeopardizing some programs and causing others to be discontinued.18 Risks related to international security and financial integrity are reported to have contributed to the discontinuation of citizenship programs in Belize, Grenada, and Nauru after the September 11, 2001, attacks (Table 7.3).19 Ireland also discontinued its ECP in 1998 and initiated a parliamentary review that concluded that the program did not provide sufficient economic benefits to justify its reintroduction.20 Reports have arisen reflecting integrity concerns with some programs. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network issued an advisory in May 2014 relating to concerns about the St. Kitts and Nevis program, and the Canadian government imposed visa requirements on citizens of St. Kitts and Nevis in November 2014. More recently, in June 2016, Canada also imposed visa requirements on Antigua and Barbuda’s citizens, reportedly as a result of its concerns about the management of the program.21 The rapid emergence and growth of such programs may exacerbate risks of abuse and corruption, and raise the possibility of curtailed visa-free access to advanced economies.

Table 7.3.Suspended Citizenship Programs
CountryPeriodReason for Suspension
Ireland1980s-1998Insufficient economic benefit
Grenada1997–2001Security concerns after 9/11
Belize1995–2002Security concerns after 9/11
Nauru1990s-2003Security concerns after 9/11
Sources: Press reports; and country authorities.
Sources: Press reports; and country authorities.

Prudent Policy Framework for ECP Inflows

Appropriate government policies can reduce and contain the risks to small states of large inflows from ECPs while allowing these economies to capitalize on the possible benefits. Where inflows are significant and expected to continue for a few years, a prudent management framework could improve fiscal management, giving priority to capital spending, debt reduction, and saving, and help deal with the potential volatile and unpredictable nature of ECP receipts (Xu, El-Ashram, and Gold 2015). Specifically,

  • Prudent management of government spending has an important role in containing the impact of these inflows on the real economy, but it should be accompanied by sufficient oversight and regulation to pace inflows, particularly to the private sector. For example, annual caps on the number of applications or the size of investments would limit the influx of investment to a country’s construction sector. A regulatory framework for the real estate market would reduce risk and limit the potentially damaging effects of price distortions and segmentation in the domestic property market resulting from investment minimums imposed by these programs. Compiling relevant real estate data to monitor the impact of these programs should be a priority.
  • Changing key parameters of the program, such as increasing the cost of the real estate option, thereby making direct contribution to the NDF relatively more attractive, can also be an effective way to redirect investment to the public sector, allowing countries to save the resources for future use, including for debt repayment and investment in infrastructure.
  • Building sufficient fiscal buffers should be a priority. Large fiscal revenue windfalls could potentially trigger unsustainable expansions in expenditure that leave the economy exposed if the revenue stream dries up. Given the potentially volatile nature of these inflows, ECP countries—and small economies in particular—need to build buffers by saving the inflows.
  • Reducing high public debt in highly indebted countries to sustainable levels is also important (Figure 7.10). Reducing debt is particularly relevant given that, in some cases, the debt-service cost on some of the public debt can exceed the potential rate of return on savings.22 Reducing debt could lessen the negative impact of the debt overhang on growth, expand borrowing capacity, and improve the fiscal balance. Trade-offs between increasing savings and reducing debt depend on the cost of debt, the return on saved assets, institutional capacity to manage growing financial wealth, and sound debt management principles (IMF 2014). Other factors may include the need for a certain level of sovereign debt instruments to promote financial market development and to provide investment and liquidity-management instruments for domestic financial institutions and social security funds, which face very limited investment options in small states.
  • Prudent management of citizenship revenue inflows would allow for a sustainable increase in public investment and accommodate countercyclical spending and relief measures in the face of natural disasters. Recent literature demonstrates that, in credit-constrained, capital-scarce developing economies, productive domestic capital spending could yield higher returns than foreign investment (including by an SWF), and should also be considered as part of an optimal strategy to manage a resource revenue windfall (Takizawa, Gardner, and Ueda 2004; Venables 2010; van der Ploeg and Venables 2011; Araujo and others 2012). This should be done through a sustainable investment approach—in which a combination of raising public investment and saving some of the resources in a stabilization fund to support ongoing maintenance is used to preserve investment efficiency.23 A conservative scaling-up schedule for public investment that is consistent with both development needs and macroeconomic conditions would allow some of the revenue windfall to be saved in a stabilization fund.24 Indeed, St. Kitts and Nevis announced in December 2016 its intention to establish in 2017 a Growth and Resilience Fund to manage the large accumulated liquid assets that are currently being held in the baking system.25
  • Fiscal revenue from ECPs should be channeled through the country’s budget. In St. Kitts and Nevis, contributions to the SIDF—the country’s NDF—are not reported on budget. In Antigua and Barbuda, only NDF resources are managed on budget; the Citizenship by Investment Program Unit surplus from application fees to the government is managed at the cabinet’s discretion, outside the budget framework. Similar information gaps exist in Dominica, where ECP revenues are accumulated in commercial bank accounts and transferred on-budget on an as-needed basis. Starting in fiscal year 2017/18, however, Dominica’s authorities intend to fully reflect all ECP revenues on budget. Funding fiscal or quasi-fiscal operations from outside the budget weakens the assessment of the underlying fiscal stance and provides incomplete information about the actual size of the government’s spending commitments. A broader fiscal perimeter, reflecting all ECP-related revenues and expenditures, is needed to properly analyze the true fiscal policy stance in ECCU countries with ECPs. This broader perimeter would provide for a transparent accounting of the inflows and reduce the risks of intensifying demand pressures and funding of low-priority public investment projects. The role of development funds financed by ECPs should be properly defined and their operations and investment should be fully integrated into the budget (Box 7.1).
  • Effective management of inflows, combined with prudent fiscal administration, will also reduce risk to the external sector. Managing and regulating inflows to the private sector, while curbing the expansion of public sector spending, would contain the increase of imports, limit the rise in wages and the real exchange rate, and contribute to accumulating international reserves—to serve as a buffer in case of a sharp slowdown in ECP receipts.
  • Financial sector oversight will also need to be strengthened. As ECP resources make their way through the system, bank balance sheet exposures need to be carefully monitored to safeguard against the emergence of weak credit standards or significant currency or maturity mismatches. This oversight is particularly relevant as ECP beneficiaries, including the government and real estate developers, rapidly accumulate deposits in the system. Strengthening banking sector oversight and prudential regulation will be important to preserve banks’ financial soundness indicators, and should include appropriate stress testing of banks’ exposures to the risk of real estate market corrections, to moderate risks arising from the rapid influx of resources to the financial system. Caps on credit growth, restrictions on foreign currency loans, or simply tighter capital requirements may be needed to dampen the procyclical flow of credit.
  • Investing ECP-related fiscal savings abroad would enhance financial stability and help preserve the quality of invested assets. As noted, government saving of large ECP inflows has already resulted in substantial growth of government deposits in the domestic banking system in St. Kitts and Nevis and in Dominica. Investing the bulk of these savings abroad under a formalized investment framework, such as an SWF, would ease the profitability pressures at domestic banks and safeguard their balance sheets against maturity and currency mismatches (Table 7.4). Additionally, the savings would not be exposed to the same idiosyncratic risks, which would help the government tap these assets swiftly in the event of large shocks, like natural disasters, without creating pressure on the domestic banking system. Equally important, the quality of invested assets is more likely to be preserved through a more comprehensive investment process, which should ideally be subject to a prudent governance framework, and adequate oversight of regulatory and legislative bodies. A comprehensive process would also help deal with fluctuations in program revenues and stabilize the impact on the economy, possibly also providing scope for intergenerational transfers. However, other less costly options may also be possible, such as having the saved assets managed by the central bank or the Bank for International Settlements (Table 7.4).
  • Rigorous due diligence of the process for citizenship applications is essential to preserve the credibility of the ECP and preclude potentially serious integrity and security risks. A comprehensive framework is needed to curtail the use of investment options as routes for money laundering and financing criminal activity. Such safeguards are integral to the success of ECPs and would also increase protection against the risk of the withdrawal of correspondent banking relationships by global banks (see Chapter 12). A high level of transparency regarding ECP applicants would further enhance the programs’ reputation and sustainability. Complying with international guidelines on the transparency and exchange of tax information would reduce the incidence of program misuse for purposes of tax evasion or other illicit activities and minimize the risk of adverse international pressure.
  • Stopping further reductions in investment requirements and other program conditions would also be important to safeguarding future inflows. A regional approach could ensure the adoption of best practices across the region, promote information sharing and transparency, and prevent applicants who do not pass due diligence in one country from applying elsewhere. Joint management of ECP applications would also help achieve economies of scale and reduce costs while averting a race to the bottom. Some progress on this front has already been made. The authorities of ECCU countries have recently granted to the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States the mandate to coordinate regional cooperation on ECP programs. Moreover, the Citizenship-by-Investment Programs Association was formed in 2015 under the auspices of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States intended to strengthen the regulatory framework and promote collaboration on due diligence.
  • In addition to all of the above, pursuing deeper structural reforms to address fundamental institutional weaknesses are necessary for achieving sustained growth objectives. Reliance on ECP flows—which could be volatile—is not a panacea for addressing a country’s macroeconomic and growth challenges. Attracting durable private and foreign investment to sustain long-term growth requires creating an attractive business environment and improving competitiveness (see Chapter 2).
  • Finally, to help garner and maintain public support for these programs, the economic benefits should accrue to the whole nation. The programs should be viewed as a national resource that may not be renewable if the nation’s reputation is tarnished by mismanagement. A clear and transparent framework for the management of resources is necessary, including a well-defined accountability structure that includes oversight and periodic financial audits. Information on the number of people granted citizenship and the amount of revenue earned—including its use and the amount saved, spent, and invested—should be publicly available.
Table 7.4.Summary of Potential Investment Channels for ECP Savings in Small State Economies
Investment ChannelsBenefitsConsiderations
A Central Bank–Managed Investment Account
  • − Existing expertise and established investment and risk management frameworks
  • − High accessibility and less time- consuming to set up
  • − Management costs are likely to be lower than external managers.
  • − Investment returns are likely to be commensurate with those earned on the general central bank reserve account.
World Bank Treasury-Reserve Advisory and Management Program
  • − Broader asset management experience
  • − Established methodology and standard investment guidelines
  • − Targeted technical assistance to build domestic capacity for investment monitoring and management
  • − World Bank mission to assess best investment strategy
  • − Management fees may be higher than the central bank, lowering net nominal returns.
  • − Minimum portfolio size is US$100 million.
  • − Cap on size of managed portfolio of about 20 percent of international reserve balance
Bank for International Settlements (Bis)
  • − Investment in a broader asset pool under a specific investment mandate or in an open-end fund (BIS investment pool)
  • − Accessible only through an account with the central bank or monetary authority
Note: ECP = economic citizenship program.
Note: ECP = economic citizenship program.

Figure 7.10.Public Debt of Selected Countries with ECPs

(Percent of GDP, 2016)

Sources: Country authorities; and IMF staff estimates.

Note: ECPs = economic citizenship programs.

Box 7.1.Treatment of Economic Citizenship Program Inflows in Fiscal Accounts

The surge of economic citizenship program inflows has created a new revenue stream that needs to be accurately reflected in the fiscal accounts. These recommendations are in line with best practices.

  • Application fees, in line with the Government Finance Statistics Manual 2001, should be recorded transparently in government budgets as nontax revenue. These are revenues earned on account of providing this asset, of which a small part reflects fees for service, covering the cost of government processing, due diligence, and the like. Similarly, government spending to deliver these services should be identified transparently in expenditures, under goods and services.
  • Contributions to national development funds (NDFs) are public sector revenues that should also be booked in government accounts when they are first received. Such payments should be recorded transparently and recognized as increasing government’s earning capacity. The mechanism in some existing programs, whereby these contributions go directly to NDFs rather than being channeled through the budget, means that the full stream of income to government is not fully captured. In general, best practice would be to record all contributions to government directly in the budget, and then channel them to be spent (or saved) in line with government priorities, as direct government expenditure or—in the case of NDFs, for instance—as budget transfers to off-budget agencies.
  • Inflows to the private investor will affect public finances to a much lesser extent. The main channel will be through an increase in stamp duty for the transfer of real estate assets. Notwithstanding the small fiscal impact, records of the size of private sector transactions should be maintained by the government, so that their impact on activity and on the balance of payments can be fully understood. Other fiscal impact will be through the increase in income tax (from construction companies and real estate agents) and personal income tax (from construction workers).

Conclusion

ECPs create potential benefits, but also risks, particularly for small states. Inflows under these programs can be substantial, with their impact widely felt across all economic sectors. They can significantly boost private sector investment and economic activity in small states, many of which are still recovering from the repercussions of the 2008–09 global financial crisis. They can also increase fiscal revenues and contribute to improving overall fiscal performance. However, if not managed carefully, these inflows will lead to challenges like those that have confronted resource-rich economies for decades, including possible boom-bust cycles and loss of external competitiveness. Moreover, the high sudden-stop risk of these inflows poses an even greater challenge than the high volatility associated with resource revenues.

Prudent management of the ECP and its associated financial inflows, combined with parallel structural reforms, can contain these risks while allowing countries to benefit from their positive impact. Critical measures include monitoring and regulating the inflows into the private sector to ensure that the magnitude of the inflows is consistent with economic absorptive capacity to contain price pressures. The bulk of fiscal revenues should be saved, to alleviate excessive demand pressures and to prevent the buildup of fiscal dependence on these inflows. ECP-generated savings can be channeled into precautionary balances to help these countries deal with exogenous shocks—which small states are significantly more vulnerable to—and more rapidly reduce high levels of public debt. Scaling up public investment in a sustainable manner may also increase potential growth, but projects should be subject to careful screening to ensure they deliver sufficiently positive economic and social return, and that they are consistent with macroeconomic sustainability. Finally, prudent management should carefully address governance and integrity risks by implementing a rigorous due diligence process, a strong anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism framework, and transparent administration of the program.

Establishing an SWF to manage large ECP fiscal savings, such as the GRF being established in St. Kitts and Nevis, could further strengthen fiscal management and safeguard financial stability while providing for the potential to enhance returns on accumulated savings. If established in line with best practices, an SWF would reinforce a strong governance framework in the management and investment of saved resources, and increase transparency. An SWF could raise the credibility of ECPs within host nations, improve prospects for better management of the inflows, and allow for the future sustainable use of these resources for the benefit of the citizens of the host country.

Finally, particularly in the context of the ECCU, a regional approach to ECPs should be adopted. Collaborating on and coordinating the administration of these programs, especially with regard to ensuring stringent screening of applicants, could reduce costs and diminish reputational risks. It may also provide the best safeguard against a race to the bottom, which, if not addressed, would ultimately significantly reduce the potential from these inflows to the region.

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1The number of U.S. EB-5 investor visas increased fivefold from 2010 to 2016, but still represent only 2 percent of annual immigration to the United States.
2The federal Canadian program was abolished in the 2014 federal budget because the program was found to have limited economic benefit, but some provinces operate their own programs.
3The Austrian government can confer immediate citizenship to foreign persons in cases of extraordinary merit, which can include substantial investments in the country under Article 10 (6) of the Austrian Citizenship Act. However, the Austrian government indicated that no citizenships have been granted under this provision since mid-2011.
4The Schengen Agreement permits Schengen visa holders to travel freely within the Schengen area as well as across Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.
5For example, the U.K. Migration Advisory Committee was asked by the U.K. government to review whether specific features of the program were delivering “significant economic benefits” to the nation.
6During the first year of operation, six applications were approved under the real estate option, but none of them had reached investment stage by the end of 2016; 14 applications were accepted under the donation option for a total of US$1.4 million; and five applicants were approved under the bond option for US$2.7 million. No interest was shown in the enterprise investment option.
7A Financial Times article, “Sea, Sun and Easy Visas Lure China Buyers” (Wise 2014), cites concerns about political changes, economic crises, and the pursuit of a safe haven as key motivations for Chinese citizens seeking a Golden Visa in Portugal.
8Chinese nationals have reportedly received 75–80 percent of Portugal’s Golden Visas, and 81 percent of the U.S. EB-5 investor visas in 2013. A report by the Economist magazine (March 1, 2014) indicates that about half of the U.K.’s “economic” visas between 2009 and 2013 were granted to Chinese and Russian citizens. St. Kitts and Nevis reports similar trends.
9Economic citizenship programs in Cyprus and Malta as well as investor residency programs in Bulgaria, Hungary, Ireland, and Portugal feature preferential tax treatment. For example, in 2008 Bulgaria introduced a 10 percent fat tax rate on all income levels, one of the lowest in the EU, while in Portugal, investor residents may enjoy tax exemptions on foreign income, including pensions, for up to 10 years under specific circumstances.
10Slemrod (2008) characterizes both tax havens and citizenship programs, among others, as examples of the commercialization of state sovereignty that is more prevalent in small states where alternative means of raising revenues are hard to find.
11U.S. Department of the Treasury, resource center (https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/tax-policy/treaties/Pages/FATCA.aspx), accessed May 9, 2017.
12Includes ECPs in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, and St. Kitts and Nevis. St. Lucia was excluded because inflows to date have been negligible. If St. Lucia was included, total revenues would have peaked at 3.7 percent of regional GDP.
13Tropical Storm Erika hit Dominica August 27, 2015, resulting in loss of life and substantial damage to crops and infrastructure, estimated at US$483 million or 96 percent of GDP, of which 65 percent was attributed to public sector reconstruction costs.
14Legislation in Grenada requires that starting in January 2016, 40 percent of ECP receipts must be placed in a contingency fund for the purposes of clearing arrears, repaying or restructuring debt, and dealing with natural disasters.
15In St. Kitts and Nevis, net foreign assets of the commercial banking system increased more than sixfold between 2010 and early 2015, peaking at more than 70 percent of GDP in April 2015, and remain relatively high at 54 percent of GDP as of December 2016.
16It also raised dependents’ age limit.
17The main changes to St. Lucia’s ECP include (1) removal of a minimum personal wealth requirement (which had been US$3 million), (2) reduction of the required contribution from US$200,000 to US$100,000 for single applicants (with a similar reduction in fees for applicants with dependents), and (3) removal of the cap of 500 citizenships per year. The bond option, which was considered the most advantageous portion of the program before the changes, is now discouraged with a new administrative fee of US$50,000.
18Van Fossen (2007) provides an extended summary of governance and corruption issues that plagued the Pacific Islands’ experience with the sale of passports through ad hoc schemes.
19Grenada revived its economic citizenship program in 2013.
20However, Ireland introduced an economic residency program in 2012. A debate in the Irish Upper House of Parliament pointed to issues with the conduct of the original citizenship program (Seanad Éireann Debates 1998).
21The statement issued by Canada indicated that “After carefully monitoring the integrity of Antigua and Barbuda’s travel documents, the Government of Canada has determined that Antigua and Barbuda no longer meets Canada’s criteria for a visa exemption” (Travelwirenews 2017).
22This may not be true for countries where debt is mostly concessional and where large deficits in infrastructure may allow for an overall return on investment that is higher than the cost of debt.
23For example, in Grenada proposed guidelines for investment operations funded by ECP resources require that spending on a project be undertaken only after sufficient funds are secured to finance the project to completion and its maintenance over the medium term.
24IMF staff simulations for Dominica (Guerson and others, forthcoming) show that additional capital expenditure would help close the infrastructure gap and permanently raise the level of income in the economy, saving accumulation would provide for a smooth transition when or if ECP revenues come to a sudden stop, and debt reduction would help reduce the debt-servicing burden and allow for faster attainment of the regional debt target of 60 percent of GDP by 2030.
25The announcement was made in the context of the 2017 budget speech. Prime Minister Harris indicated that “Te medium-term macroeconomic objective of this strategy is to use the accumulated savings to build policy buffers against exogenous shocks that could result from hurricanes, downturns in key tourism markets and adverse developments related to the CBI [Citizenship-by-Investment] inflows” (Caribbean News Now 2016).

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