With a lucrative Citizenship by Investment programme under its Asia Pacific belt, the island nation of Vanuatu has put in place plans to become the first-ever CBI programme to allow stateless individuals to apply for citizenship, with accredited agent VanLS obtaining a three-year exclusive licence to handle the applications.
It’s little surprise that this pacific island nation would tap into the unchartered population of stateless individuals, given that its still-young (just three years old) Citizenship by Investment programme has already proven so popular, with much-needed revenues now at US$84.6 million, surpassing the country’s grant aid.
With the country having been doubly battered in 2020, first courtesy of the pandemic (with many losses in tourism dollars) and then quite literally by the category five Cyclone Harold in April, revenues from its highly successful Citizenship by Investment programme are needed more than ever.
Enter Vanuatu’s very targeted and trailblazing initiative, appealing to those without official citizenship, which will not only bring in more much-needed revenue via citizenship by investment funds but will help those individuals who are currently stateless.
Helping those who face discrimination in their homeland
The initiative has been launched by Vanuatu’s official government-led Citizenship by Investment Programme, the Development Support Program, and the licence given to Vanuatu Life Style (VanLS), allowing VanLS to process applications from ‘stateless people’ – individuals who have no identity documents that prove their citizenship – with the aim of allowing them to secure a passport of Vanuatu.
The UN estimates that there are more than 10 million stateless people in the world today, including the Rohingya, an ethnic minority who live in Myanmar, but who aren’t recognised as its citizens, as well as some living in Europe’s former Soviet Union countries, who may have lost their citizenship when countries like Estonia gained independence. It is estimated that some 80,000 people in Estonia are stateless.
The director of VanLS, Thi Tham Goiset, explained that this new and pioneering initiative was a way to support those individuals who face discrimination in their homelands.
VanLS has partnered with Malta-based citizenship agent Discus Holdings, who will act as official marketing agents.
Formulating a due diligence plan for the new initiative
As this is a new venture, with Vanuatu pioneering the CIP landscape, the chairman of Vanuatu’s Citizenship Commission, Ronald Warsal, has authorised only the processing of a maximum of 300 applications from stateless individuals.
“The government is prudent and wishes to move forward cautiously on this in the beginning,” Laszlo Kiss, managing director of Discuss Holdings, told IMI Daily. “If it works and everything is clean and transparent, I see no reason why it should not be expanded.”
Kiss admits that processing such applications is both a bit different and more complicated. “What we now have to formulate for Vanuatu is a list of what documentation should be required from stateless applicants from different countries, a process that will take a lot of work.”
The idea is that each case would be evaluated differently, depending on the country in which they reside as well as the local circumstances and limitations, with alternative forms of documentation and identity proof allowed where necessary.
Stateless people will therefore be able to apply for citizenship on the same investment/pricing terms as other applicants, although due diligence fees may be higher due to the extra work involved in vetting those without existing citizenships.
Vanuatu’s Citizenship by Investment Programme
Vanuatu’s citizenship by investment programme has been highly successful since its launch in 2017, achieving a 32% year-on-year increase with revenues of US$84.6 million over the past three years, revenues which now surpass the country’s grant aid.
Vanuatu’s citizenship by investment program is the only CBI on offer in the Asia-Pacific. Currently, there are two investment options, but one is purely focused on China. Its programme is widely considered to be one of the fastest routes to a second passport with a promised processing time of 45 days. A minimum outlay of US$130,000 is required to gain citizenship.
Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the Citizenship’s office and Commission of Vanuatu is accepting citizenship applications electronically (forms are downloadable online) and they are further accepting digital media (video conference) for the Oaths presentation, which previously required a trip.
Vanuatu is a tax haven with no taxes imposed on income, inheritance or gains. Citizenship can be granted to the spouse, children and grandparents.
“Vanuatu is ranked sixth because of its processing programme in place and we have to maintain the standard compared to other countries in the world,” explained chairman Warsal.
Vanuatu’s office of Citizenship Commission is working closely with the national government to strengthen the programme, expand it and ensure it create jobs for the locals. Vanuatu is a consistently democratic and peaceful community and has been consistently dubbed the Happiest Place in the World.
Find out more about Vanuatu and its Citizenship by Investment programme by reading our Country Profile, click here.