(CMC) – Antigua and Barbuda says it is “not ashamed” of its citizenship by investment programme (CBI), adding that it helped the country to take care of its nationals during the worst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Antigua and Barbuda is among several Caribbean countries with a CBI programme that provides citizenship to foreign investors in return for making a significant contribution to the socio-economic development of the island.
The CBI has come under criticism from the European Union and the United States that deem the initiative as a tax haven.
“We continue in the programme because we think it’s good for us,” Colin James, chief executive officer of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority told the Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s (CTO) “Destination Media Briefing” as he fielded questions from journalists.
“We realise that over the years, we’ve had people who will tell us what’s good for us,” James said, noting that CIB programme have several models.
“You can actually buy real estate and develop that in Antigua and Barbuda or you can choose to be a citizen. And incidentally for our country, you actually have to be on island and be resident for a couple of days, at least, a year to ensure that you qualify for that citizenship,” he said.
James said that what is important is “the due diligence that goes into making sure that the people who apply for citizenship are actually thoroughly vetted by the United States, thoroughly vetted by Interpol so when the citizenship applications are approved, they’ve already been pre-approved by other folks”.
He said that Antigua and Barbuda citizenship is popular because “there’s a host of countries — I don’t have the exact figure of hand — that give us visa-free access, namely the Schengen countries in Europe.
“A lot of the people who acquire our citizenship are wealthy people and they use this as a second opportunity and it’s nothing new,” he said, adding that Malta has been operating a CBI programme for years.
“The US, if you come to the US and you have money and you invest and you have a million bucks, you can get Uncle Sam citizenship. So, it’s just us doing it and everybody’s ‘Oh, they’re selling passports.’
“We are using a mechanism that I think works for us. If we did not have that citizenship by investment programme and you can ask Dominica, you can ask St Kitts-Nevis, during the lockdown our people would have been hungry, but because we had a mechanism to fall back on, it really provided the funding to keep our economy sustainable.
“And so it’s something that we’re not ashamed of because we don’t think we’re doing anything illegal or anything that as independent nations we shouldn’t have an opportunity to do.”
James said that “wealthy countries” have been operating CBI programmes “all along”.
“They just call it a different name. So I think it’s proven to be very, very successful. Even the digital nomad programme we’ve been offering people the opportunity to have long-term stays where you can live in Antigua, for six months. Barbados has proven to be very successful, Antigua, and a lot of destinations have done that, particularly during COVID so that we can use what we have to our benefit and for our advantage and it’s just a great part of the world to live,” he said.
In the tourism sector, James said that as of August 29 all COVID-19 testing and entry requirements have been lifted for all visitors regardless of vaccination status. There is another quarantine requirement, but visitors are asked to continue to observe all on-island protocols, as some establishments still require a facemask.
Stay-over tourism arrivals for July 2022 were seven per cent higher than July 2019, representing 24,673 in 2022, compared to 23,031 in 2019. Further, stay-over tourism arrivals for August 2022 increased by seven per cent over the August 2019 figure, or 20,125 in 2022 and 18, 0792 in 2019.
He said that American Airlines has increased daily flights to Antigua from New York and Miami and Frontier Airlines will restart year-round service from Orlando in November. Air Canada is to resume service from Toronto on October 8 and begin service from Montreal in December while Sunwing adds two weekly flights from Toronto with Montreal service in November.
Westjet will increase its flight to twice weekly and Virgin Atlantic is increasing its service from three to five times weekly flights for Winter 2023.
British Airways celebrated 60 years of flying to Antigua in July and continues to offer daily flights.
He said regional service is back with smaller carriers such as LIAT, InterCaribbean, and Caribbean Airways.