Wealthy Russians seen fuelling demand for Caribbean island’s passport

Known as the Spice Island, Grenada has been a politically stable tax haven since the US-led invasion in the 1980s. PHOTO: PURE GRENADA/FACEBOOK

NEW YORK – Vladimir Putin’s military draft following his invasion of Ukraine has triggered a flood of Russians moving to nearby countries with visa-free entry, such as Turkey or Georgia. For some wealthier citizens, an alluring alternative has opened on a faraway island in the Caribbean.

Demand from wealthy Russians looking to flee is helping drive the spike in applications for Grenada’s citizenship by investment initiative, according to Richard Hallam, a special adviser to the program. He estimates they could make up the biggest chunk of applicants this year.

For a minimum investment of US$150,000 (S$205,000), applicants can receive a Grenada passport that allows for visa-free travel to more than 100 destinations, including China, the United Kingdom and Europe’s Schengen area. It’s also the only Caribbean country with an investor treaty with the United States that allows its citizens to apply for non-immigrant visas.

Grenada initially banned Russians from its citizenship by investment programme in March along with other Caribbean neighbours, but reversed course in June. Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda are among the countries that have maintained bans.

Applications for Grenada’s investor visas have nearly quadrupled to almost 200 since it reversed its prohibition on Russians, according to the country’s ministry of finance.

“All of those who were preparing applications were in limbo” until the ban was removed, said Mr Hallam, who is also citizenship by investment director for Ora Caribbean, a resort developer owned by billionaire Naguib Sawiris. “It’s like turning off the tap and then reopening it.”

Karline Purcell, who heads Grenada’s citizenship by investment programme, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Mr Putin’s invasion has resulted in a split among countries and regions over whether to allow Russian visitors, with the European Union in September making it more difficult and expensive for them to visit. Many of Russia’s wealthiest citizens, meanwhile, have shifted assets and superyachts to places such as Dubai and Turkey to seek refuge from Western sanctions.

“If you weren’t pro-Putin and you were still in the country, you couldn’t get out,” Mr Hallam said this week during the America Outbound summit in New York. “Just because one particular Russian invaded a country, you can’t decide all Russians are evil.”

Known as the Spice Island, Grenada has been a politically stable tax haven since the US-led invasion in the 1980s, with no capital gains, inheritance or global income taxes.

Its parliament created the citizenship by investment programme in 2013, and it has since drawn some wealthy Chinese applicants looking to avoid long backlogs for similar US programmes. BLOOMBERG

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.