Lebanese rich in crisis buy ‘island passport’


Fearing that visa problems could cause him to lose his job in Dubai, Lebanese executive Jad spent about $135,000 buying new citizenships for himself and his wife.

Less than a month after payment last year, the 43-year-old businessman received a small parcel in his mailbox.

Inside were two navy blue passports of the Caribbean island nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. This passport was a ticket for visa-free entry to more than 150 countries, including Europe.

This is a major upgrade from the Lebanese passport, which is one of the worst countries in the world and has become almost impossible to renew due to shortages of cash and stock.

“Three years ago, I would never have imagined I would be buying a passport,” said Jad, who had previously struggled with the lengthy visa process for business trips.

“But now, because of the situation in Lebanon and because we can afford it, we finally did it,” he said, requesting the name not be released for privacy reasons.

The St Kitts Passport is ranked 25th in the world and Lebanon is ranked 103rd in the Henry Passport Index for Freedom of Travel.

With a population of less than 55,000, it started selling citizenship a year after independence in 1983.

Citizenship by Investment Scheme has become a booming business internationally, attracting wealthy people from unstable countries such as Iraq, Yemen and Syria.

Jose Charo, head of the Beirut office of Switzerland-based Passport Legacy, says Lebanese now make up a quarter of the company’s customers. Photo: AFP / Anwar Amro

Some EU member states, such as Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Malta, also operate a ‘golden passport’ system, but the European Commission objected to the backdoor granting EU citizenship.

Wealthy Lebanese, mostly living in the Gulf region or African countries, are now among those looking for passports that provide easier travel and a safety net for families from economic crises.

Commonwealth Caribbean countries are particularly attractive because of their long-standing plans to offer citizenship within a few months in exchange for a lump sum.

Applicants do not even need to visit.

When Jad first went to Paris as a Kittitian, passport control said to him, “You are from a nice country.”

“But actually I’ve never been there,” he said.

Jad’s Lebanese friends in the Gulf are also getting residences by buying “island passports” as part of so-called “golden visa” schemes or by investing in real estate in Greece and Portugal, he said.

“It’s not just a trend, it’s a solution.”

Commonwealth Caribbean countries are particularly attractive because of their long-standing plans to offer citizenship within a few months in exchange for a lump sum. Commonwealth Caribbean countries are particularly attractive because of their long-standing plans to offer citizenship within a few months in exchange for a lump sum. Photo: AFP / Anwar Amro

Lebanon expatriates living in the Gulf Arab countries have long endured political disputes and rifts between the capitals.

Last year, several Gulf states cut diplomatic ties with Beirut for months after the Lebanese minister criticized Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen.

Kuwait has limited the number of visas granted to Lebanese, and many in the diaspora feared that other Gulf countries would follow suit.

“Here’s the problem,” said Dubai-based businessman Marielli Bou Harb. “I didn’t want to jeopardize my work in the Gulf region.”

The 35-year-old bought Saint Kitts passports for a family of four last year, aided by big discounts as the Covid-19 pandemic puts the island nation’s tourism-dependent economy in trouble.

A single passport usually costs around $150,000, and this amount went to the Sustainable Growth Fund for a country that installed only traffic lights in its capital, Baseter, in 2018.

Other Caribbean islands such as Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada and St. Lucia also sell passports.

Few people can afford such purchases in Lebanon, where the currency is collapsing, banks freeze deposits, and Lebanon faces an economic crisis that leaves most of the population in poverty.

However, the demand for foreign citizenship has created a boom in passport consulting, with the company advertising on social media, on billboards and even inside Beirut airport.

Among them is Global Pass, which a real estate company switched to in 2020 after Lebanese began complaining of high visa refusal rates.

“From 2020 to 2021, our business has grown at least 40%,” said founder Giad Karkaj.

Foreign companies are also making a profit.

Jose Charo, head of Switzerland-based Passport Legacy’s Beirut office, said Lebanese now make up a quarter of the company’s customers.

The number has increased fivefold, Charo said, as the economic crisis worsened by the devastating explosions in the port of Beirut in 2020.

He said that having Grenada citizenship makes it easier for business people to apply for US investor visas, and people who want to retire or settle abroad can invest about $250,000 in Greece or Portugal to secure permanent residency, he said.

“This industry will continue to grow, unfortunately for this country, but fortunate for us,” Charo said.

“They are buying freedom.”


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