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Bahamas Urged to Push Ahead Citizenship of High-Net-Worth Investors

Prime Minister Perry Christie (3rd from left)

Prime Minister Perry Christie (3rd from left)

NASSAU, Bahamas — The government has been urged to implement an investor-citizenship program that would effectively allow high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) to trade investment in The Bahamas for citizenship rights as a means of spurring growth in the economy.

Sean McWeeney QC, a partner with law firm Graham Thompson and Co., is advocating for The Bahamas to learn lessons from its past as it seeks to reposition the financial services industry for future growth. Among those lessons, he believes, is the need to attract “quality” HNWIs to live and work in the country, rather than taking a “mass market” approach to selling the country’s offerings.

This could be achieved, he suggested, by jumping on the “bandwagon” that has seen other competitor jurisdictions implement programs that give investors accelerated access to citizenship rights in return for meeting an investment threshold.

McWeeney, a close adviser of Prime Minister Perry Christie, was speaking on Tuesday morning at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) Caribbean Conference 2014. McWeeney is a specialist in trusts and laws relating to the financial services industry.

“My own view is that we should (implement an investor-citizenship program) but it should be focused on high quality, rather than high quantity. Investment thresholds would therefore need to be rather high. It is moreover vitally important that we settle on one thing: The granting of citizenship on the basis that the recipient never has to step foot in your country is not a credible, sustainable approach; moreover, it’s a red flag to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), as witnessed in the recent experience of Malta, which under pressure from the OECD had to introduce a longer qualifying residency period under its own investor citizenship program.

“A far more credible approach for investor citizenship would be to offer permanent residency, in the first instance, with a guarantee of citizenship once the required period of residence is met,” he added.

McWeeney noted that just a few wealthy individuals who are heavily committed to The Bahamas have had a transformative effect on the Bahamian economy over the years.

“Sir Harold Christie persuaded Sir Harry Oakes to move from Canada to The Bahamas, and in just a few short years, Oakes had almost singlehandedly transformed the Bahamian economy with his developments, just as other high-net-worth immigrants have done after him, all through the years, such as the likes of Sol Kerzner of South Africa, who created all that you see at Atlantis, and Joe Lewis of the United Kingdom, who is transforming the western end of Nassau with his magnificent Albany resort and residential community. It has always been a comparatively small number of movers and shakers who have had this economically transformative effect.

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