By Caribbean News Now contributor
BASSETERRE, St Kitts — A resort developer based in St Kitts but owned and operated by Chinese interests has declined to remove false and/or misleading information about Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) citizenship and residency from its website.
Despite the erroneous nature of the published information being drawn to the attention of attorneys for Caribbean Galaxy Real Estate (CGRE), instead of removing or correcting it, a simple disclaimer has been added.
According to the CGRE website, “Turks and Caicos Islands is one of the 14 overseas territories of the United Kingdom. Citizens on the island are free to enter and leave the UK to work and study with their passports.”
The assertion that TCI citizens as holders of British Overseas Territories Citizenship (BOTC) are free to live, work and study in the UK is simply not true.
The UK government clearly states under “Rights as a British overseas territories citizen” that:
Unless you’re also a British citizen:
• you’re still subject to immigration controls – you don’t have the automatic right to live or work in the UK
• you aren’t considered a UK national by the European Union (EU)
The CGRE website goes on to state that “Investors who have more than 12 months of PRC rights are entitled to apply for naturalization and apply for BOTC (British Oversea Territories Citizen) passport.”
This is misleading. While it is necessary to have been free of TCI immigration controls for 12 months prior to an application for naturalisation, what the CGRE website fails to state is that a requirement for such naturalisation is five years continuous lawful residency in the TCI prior to such application.
Following an earlier, unrelated incident involving similar false and misleading claims made by the promoters of a resort project in the TCI, Tom Lawrence, at the Home Office Communications Directorate in London, set out in detail the correct position:
• Eligibility for British Overseas Territory Citizenship (BOTC) is governed by the British Nationality Act 1981. Citizenship is granted by the governor of the territory and Overseas Territories are not able to grant BOTC status other than in accordance with that Act.
• Residency and other requirements for BOTC status apply, so anyone who has not lived lawfully in the territory for a number of years is unlikely to qualify.
• Criteria for the grant of BOT Citizenship include residence requirements, a good character requirement and an intention to make the principal home within the relevant territory.
• Generally, the residency requirements are for a minimum of five years residence immediately preceding the application, during which total absences must not exceed 450 days with a maximum of 90 days absence in the last year. The applicant must not have been in breach of immigration rules at any time during those five years and the last year of residence must have been free of any immigration control.
• BOTCs do not have the right of abode in the UK unless they later become British citizens.
In this regard, the TCI governor’s office also confirmed at the time that “There is no direct route to BOTC and the investor will have to meet the eligibility requirements as noted.”
In other words, seeking residency and/or citizenship in the TCI is not at all similar to the far more flexible economic citizenship programmes operated by four Eastern Caribbean countries, where in some cases it is not even necessary ever to set foot there, let alone commit to at least five years continuous lawful residency before being able to apply for citizenship.
None of these critical details are listed by CGRE under “Other requirements”.
However, in an apparent attempt to evade any legal liability for the inaccuracies published on its website, CGRE has, presumably on the advice of its lawyers, in the last few days added a disclaimer of doubtful efficacy, especially in the context of continuing knowingly to publish false and misleading information:
Attention: The website statement is an introduction to the immigration law only and is not intended to be a comprehensive explanation.
Even in the best of circumstances such disclaimers are not magic bullets or “get out of jail free cards”, let alone effective to escape responsibility for publishing content that is already known to be false.
Although the naturalisation requirements in relation to BOTs are clearly set out by the British government, for some reason the situation continues to be fraught with misunderstanding and misrepresentation.
According to one well-known citizenship consultant, about ten years ago a different group of entrepreneurs tried to market TCI BOT citizenship but had limited success. Their clients were able to obtain their PRC (Permanent Residency Certificates) by investing in a resort in Providenciales but the governor refused to exercise his discretion to grant BOTC before the required five years residency period.
At that time, however, the situation may have been complicated by the fact that the elected government headed by former premier Michael Misick had been replaced by direct rule from London after systemic corruption had been uncovered within the local administration.
“It’s highly unlikely for the British to grant citizenship to anyone without showing effective residence and the required five years residency period. If this is the case, which relies on the discretion of the governor at the time of citizenship application, then applicants must be made aware that this is a lottery and also one that would depend on the mood of the governor at the time of citizenship application. Not to mention, that this type of British citizenship does not grant any rights to its holder in the UK,” the consultant noted.
Furthermore, in 2016 the issue of all BOT passports has been taken away from the governor’s office in the respective territory and they are now processed by the Passport Office in Britain. It is therefore even more unlikely that any governor, especially in the TCI, would wish to invite scrutiny from London by wholesale grants of naturalisation contrary to the guidelines clearly articulated by the Home Office.
While there is currently a limited amount of Chinese interest in the TCI, it is not clear at this point what is CGRE’s interest there to prompt it to include the British territory as one of four jurisdictions covered on its website. The other three are St Kitts and Nevis, where it has a slow-moving resort project financed by the country’s citizenship by investment programme (CIP) and now in its fifth year; Saint Lucia, where it signed a development agreement with the government last year for a similar CIP-financed resort; and Thailand.
A member of the current elected government in the TCI told Caribbean News Now that it is unlikely to provide any comment on the matter.