Caribbean nations are so strapped for cash after the pandemic hammered their tourism industries that they have begun dangling deep discounts on the passports they sell to wealthy foreigners.

Many of the islands in the region have long offered “citizenship-by-investment” programs as a way of supplementing the hard currency they pull in from tourism. With their hotels and white-sand beaches now almost entirely empty, this unconventional business has suddenly taken on a much greater importance.

St. Kitts and Nevis, a mountainous twin-island nation of 53,000 people, was among the first to slash prices. It’s offering a special deal through the end of the year: A $150,000 contribution to the country’s “Sustainable Growth Fund” will score passports for a family of four. That’s a 23% drop the regular price of $195,000. Other islands in the region, including Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda are offering even cheaper deals.

“In these days of Covid, when tourism is not happening, we have to find ways to create revenue to sustain our economy,” said Les Khan, CEO of St. Kitts and Nevis Citizenship Investment Unit, in a phone interview.

St. Lucia, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica have also put changes in place to lure more clients, Khan said. Some offer citizenship for as little as $100,000.

Since St. Kitts helped pioneer the industry in the 1980s, citizenship-by-investment has grown into a multi-billion dollar business, offering wealthy clients an escape from the travel restrictions on their home countries’ passports and helping them plan for emergencies.

“Clients look at these citizenship options as volatility management or risk management tools,” said Paddy Blewer director of the U.K. office of Henley & Partners, a London-based consultancy that provides advice on citizenship and residencies.

The fallout from Covid has highlighted the value of a second passport, he said, as governments in Europe and elsewhere imposed restrictions on people who can normally travel without a visa, such as U.S. citizens.

Chinese Clients
During the pandemic, Khan’s unit has seen an increase in interest from clients in China and the Middle East, he said. The office does not release statistics.

Its passport offers visa-free travel to more than 100 countries, including the U.K. and Italy. Citizenship can also be acquired via an investment in real estate.

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