St Kitts and Nevis recalls passports over security concerns from Canada and US

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 December, 2014, 10:37pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 December, 2014, 10:37pm

The tiny Caribbean nation of St Kitts and Nevis has issued an urgent recall of its passports, which are popular with mainland Chinese under a citizenship-for-sale scheme, after the Canadian government announced that it was halting visa-free access for holders of the documents.

The recall, which applies to all passports issued between January 2012 and July this year, is intended to allay concerns from Canada and the United States that the passports allow travellers to obscure their true identities.

Recalled passports will be exchanged for new documents that list the holder's place of birth on the bio-data page and any name changes on the observation page.

The recall was announced last week and is due to begin today, with a January 31 deadline for submission of passports. "Passports not returned on or before the deadline will be deactivated and cancelled thereby voiding their use for travel," the St Kitts ministry of foreign affairs said in a circular to service providers around the world who help run the Citizenship by Investment programme.

Under the controversial scheme, applicants are granted citizenship and passports in exchange for a US$250,000 donation, or a US$400,000 property purchase which must be held for five years. There is no residency requirement, and citizenship can be obtained without ever setting foot in the country.

A Canadian immigration industry source said the scheme was popular with mainland Chinese breadwinners who had families in Canada, but whose business affairs prevented them from maintaining permanent residency in Canada themselves.

The circular said affected passports must be submitted to the foreign ministry in St Kitts, or to one of its missions around the world including in New York, Washington, London, Toronto or Taipei.

The recall comes after the Canadian government announced on November 22 that it was immediately requiring citizens of St Kitts to obtain visas to enter Canada - a process which can take several weeks. Washington has previously expressed concern that St Kitts passports were a security risk.

It is unclear whether the replacement exercise will result in reinstatement of visa-free access to Canada.

Ian Young