LES KHAN is the CEO of the Citizenship by Investment Unit of St. Kitts and Nevis. He has been CEO of the programme since 2016, implementing industry leading innovations. Before his current role his career spanned over 20 years taking him to the USA, Canada, India and Australia working in the financial sector. In this interview, he talks about the benefits of citizenship by investment. Excerpts by OSA VICTOR OBAYAGBONA.
What makes SKN the choice of citizenship by investment?
The St. Kitts and Nevis (SKN) Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programme is the world’s platinum standard for economic citizenship. The programme is the oldest and most established in the world and has been offering citizenship to reputable individuals through a robust and efficient due diligence process since 1984.
SKN’ programme has a variety of elements that contribute to its leadership in the CBI industry. Firstly, the St. Kitts and Nevis passport is among the strongest in the world as seen by the latest Henley & Partners Passport Index that placed SKN as the strongest CBI passport in the Caribbean with visa-free access to 157 destinations.
The possibilities of global mobility and lifestyle opportunities that the SKN passport provides are an important factor to the programme’s popularity in the CBI industry. In addition, the programme has always been recognised as having unparalleled due diligence in its applications, thanks to third-party four-stage processes that vet applicants before they are considered.
The leading due diligence of our programme is matched by our extremely efficient application process, which is recognised among the fastest in the industry, which in turn substantiates our platinum standard.
As the world’s first CBI programme, the St. Kitts and Nevis programme is also first in the industry when it comes to innovation and legislation of its CBI programme from the constant development of new investment opportunities to the passing of key legislation that raises the standards of accountability and investment protection in the entire CBI industry.
All of this, however, would not be possible without the strong and successful leadership of the government of St. Kitts and Nevis and in particular, Prime Minister Timothy Harris’ ambitious vision for the programme and its integral contribution to the country’s sustainable development, economic growth and prosperity.
There is also another element I wanted to touch upon which adds to the quality of our programme, and this is the contribution to the domestic economy and the positive local impact. Investors contribute to local economic growth, as revenue from the programme is used to invest in key sectors – healthcare, infrastructure, tourism, construction, and sustainable development.
The circularity of the programme allows it to create opportunities for both investors and the local community, contributing towards a more prosperous future for all.
What is the COVID-19 situation, who is allowed entry, and when will the country be open for tourists?
St. Kitts and Nevis has been lauded for its successful management of the COVID-19 pandemic since the outset. It was the last country in the Western hemisphere to declare a case, and despite being a country that relies on its tourism industry it took the difficult decision to close its borders in March 2020 to save lives and to prevent community spread. Thanks to its successful management of the emergency, the federation only experienced its first community spread from May 19, 2021 onwards, over a year after COVID-19 had spread to practically every country in the world.
The high level of preparation shown by the government and its relevant authorities ensured that the community spread is successfully managed using all best practices available including test and tracing, enhanced hospital facilities, strict COVID-19 protocols and containment measures across the federation and a highly successful vaccination roll-out programme.
In fact, the latest data show that over 71% of the target population in St. Kitts and Nevis has received at least one jab while over 59% is already fully vaccinated, placing St. Kitts and Nevis in line with the most vaccinated countries in the world. Thanks to these unparalleled efforts, the country is looking forward to materialising its reopening plans.
Finally, the travel industry and its authorities have shown their longstanding expertise, innovation and resilience as infrastructure has been refitted to ensure social distancing, travel workers have undergone specific trainings and travel sites and services have been certified by the authorities to testify compliance with safety measures.
How has the programme performed and how has it helped contribute to SKN’s economy?
Like the rest of the world, the pandemic affected several industries in St. Kitts and Nevis that in turn impacted the economy. However, thanks to strong foresight from the government and careful management of the Island’s COVID-19 situation, safety has prevailed.
The citizenship by investment programme was of course included in the government’s pandemic-related forward planning. Thanks to the country’s 24/7 fully digital application service, one of the first in the world to adopt this, the programme has been able to continue accepting applications, while still upholding our platinum standard due diligence process.
The government saw it fit to simplify the number of documents needed to apply in light of the extraordinary circumstances. These measures were taken to prioritise and protect the CBI programme, a service that is seen as ‘essential’ by the government. In addition to making the process more convenient for potential applicants, CBI employees in St. Kitts were granted essential worker status allowing them to continue running the service despite COVID related restrictions – a testament to CBI’s contribution to the country.
Thanks to the flexible and reactive management alongside an extended limited time offer, the CBI programme has actually seen increased interest during the pandemic.
The strong demand for our CBI programme has in turn acted as a strong contribution to drive socio-economic prosperity in the Federation, which has implemented the largest Covid-related economic stimulus package in its region. The SKN economy saw five years of consistent growth before the pandemic, and it is estimated that St. Kitts and Nevis’ GDP will see a strong rebound of 5.5% in 2021 alone.
Thanks to the successful financial planning, and vaccination campaign of the government, which is moving towards an economic recovery and the CBI programme has played a part in this.
What are the major attractions for the increased uptake in new markets like Nigeria and others?
The St. Kitts and Nevis CBI programme has long been noted for its reputation as a platinum programme with unparalleled standards of due diligence and the strongest CBI passport in the Caribbean. Alongside our status as the world’s first CBI programme, these features have cemented our reputation as one of the most popular CBI programmes in the world. Our programme has long established international interest from across the world and in recent months we have also seen particular growth in new markets as well, including in Africa and the Gulf.
The travel unlocking capability of a St. Kitts and Nevis passport has proven to be a game changer for many such as African entrepreneurs and professionals often held back by discriminatory passport and immigration policies.
For example, Cameroonians can only travel to 17 countries visa free and African countries consistently occupy the lower ranks of the passport Index. This is perhaps why the past year has seen a marked uptick in CBI applications from African countries. Resourceful individuals in North and West Africa especially are finding ways to overcome visa related obstacles to international travel; CBI is seen as a prominent resolution.
St. Kitts and Nevis also has strong diplomatic and business ties to the Middle East with an embassy located in Dubai and a family-friendly application process, whereby you, your spouse, and your dependents can enjoy full citizenship for life. SKN citizenship may also be passed onto future generations, helping to grant your family an invaluable legacy. In particular, the Sustainable Growth Fund option has been particularly popular with applicants from the Gulf region due to its ability to incorporate large families.
The good management of our programme has allowed our reputation to remain the highest in the market. We welcome the increased interest from new markets in Africa but also in Southeast Asia and the Gulf and sustained demand from the US.
Ultimately, we are happy to see that applications continue to come in from all over the world as a demonstration that our programme provides benefits to applications from every corner of the earth.
How are applicants vetted in 2021?
As the world’s oldest CBI programme, SKN is committed to upholding its platinum standard of economic citizenship. For us, this means abiding by international law and having a robust due diligence system in place, to uphold and protect the integrity of the programme. We operate in full compliance with national legislation and international standards. We apply stringent checks to all prospective applicants.
Every prospective citizen goes through four levels of due diligence checks before their application is accepted. These checks are anti-money laundering searches and proof of funds, world compliance checks to mitigate financial and reputational risk, criminal background checks in the applicant’s native country and international law enforcement verification. On top of this we continue to run background checks on economic citizens even after approval to ensure that applicants are not a risk for the country or our international partners.
What discounts or limited time offer is the SKN government offering investors due to COVID-19?
The CBI programme recently extended a limited time offer on its Sustainable Growth Fund until December 31, 2021, decreasing the price of citizenship through the fund by $45,000 for high-net-worth families, making it the highest quality programme for a highly competitive price of $150,000.
With the strongest projected growth rate in the Eastern Caribbean of 3.5% before the COVID-19 pandemic, SKN is an attractive investment option. Applicants are able to invest in prime luxury real estate on the Island or to become a contributor to the Sustainable Growth Fund.
Acquiring property on the Islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, a tourist destination graced by the late Diana, Princess of Wales, is a savvy way to diversify one’s property portfolio, with options including hotel shares, oceanside villas, and resort condominium units.