I INTRODUCTION TO THE IMMIGRATION FRAMEWORK
St Lucia is well known as the island that France and England fought over throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries with possession changing 14 times between the two countries. In 1814, the British took definitive control of the island and, in 1979, St Lucia became an independent state. Nowadays, tourism is the main economic sector, accounting for more than 60 per cent of jobs in the workforce.
The government of St Lucia strongly encourages foreign direct investment, and has been cited by the US Department of State as operating in a 'generally transparent manner'.2 and the legal system is based on British common law.
i Legislation and policy
Immigration is regulated by the Immigration and Passport Act.3 Upon entering the country, a visitor is given a maximum of three to six weeks to remain on the island. Prior to the expiration of this deadline, or if the visitor plans to stay longer, a further extension may be granted after an application is made to the Immigration Department.
Citizenship or (permanent residence) may be applied for through the Ministry responsible for Home Affairs and National Security if a non-national is desirous of becoming a citizen or a permanent resident of St Lucia, after having resided in St Lucia for:
- one to three years, temporary residency;
- five years in the case of permanent residence; or
- seven years for citizenship.4
The Act set out the procedures to be followed, and the forms and fees to be used in the immigration process.
ii The immigration authorities
The Minister responsible for Labour and National Security is responsible for immigration and passport issues. This Immigration Department is under the general policy control of the Minister and consists of an establishment of public officers, including the chief immigration officer and a number of other immigration officers, who guarantee the enactment of government immigration policy.
iii Exemptions and favoured industries
The government of St Lucia provides incentives to encourage investment in various sectors by providing tax and non-tax concessions to assist businesses that are able to add value to the economic development of the country. Approval of an enterprise for these incentives is granted by the Cabinet of Ministers upon an application.
The Special Development Areas Act is aimed at promoting balanced economic development on the Island. The legislation provides incentives to approved investors or developers for the creation of certain types of businesses in specially designated areas. The St Lucia free zone is an enclosed area for customer purposes located in Vieux Fort and within 200 metres of the airport and a five-minute drive from the Vieux Fort Sea Port. Goods in this zone of foreign origin may be held pending the transhipment, and in some cases importation into the local market without payment of customs duties. The incentives for a free zone operator include:
- no taxes on dividends for the first 20 years of operation;
- no work permit fees for management personnel of the free zone businesses; and
- no import or export licences.
II INTERNATIONAL TREATY OBLIGATIONS
As a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the OECS Economic Union, St Lucia is allowed to access a market of some 14 million consumers and allows for duty-free export to the member countries of these regional blocs. St Lucia is a participant of CSME, which allows a qualified CARICOM national to live and work in any CARICOM state that partakes in the free movement system.
III THE YEAR IN REVIEW
In 2015, St Lucia established the Citizenship by Investment Act No. 14 of 2015 to create a new wave of investment for St Lucia under a programme that allows a person to apply for citizenship by registration upon satisfaction of the requisite qualifying investment and other requirements under the Act.
IV EMPLOYER SPONSORSHIP
i Work permits
Persons who are not citizens of St Lucia may not work without first obtaining a work permit. Applications can be obtained from the Labour Department, which is currently under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Human Resources Development and Labour. Once an individual satisfies the requirement prescribed a work permit will be issued and this procedure must be repeated every year until the applicant becomes a citizen of St Lucia.
In considering the approval of the application for a work permit, the Minister responsible considers, the effect of the grant upon employment opportunities open to citizens of St Lucia. Furthermore, the application form requires the employer to state whether the vacancy was advertised locally.
ii Labour market regulation
The government uses the work permit regime to control the resident labour market. Certain sectors are reserved for residents. Thus, for instance, work permits would not be granted for jobs in the small-enterprises sector. It is also expected that positions would be advertised in the local press to ensure that citizens have the opportunity of applying for the jobs. The Labour Department also encourages unemployed citizens to register with that department.
iii Rights and duties of sponsored employees
Work permits are granted in respect of a job with an employer. If an employee changes his or her employment, he or she must apply for a new work permit. The government restricts certain sectors for residents and thus work permits will not be given to for jobs generally associated with the small enterprise sector.
V INVESTORS, SKILLED MIGRANTS AND ENTREPRENEURS
The policy of the Government of St Lucia is to actively encourage foreign direct investment and pursuant to the Invest St Lucia Act No. 14 of 2014 Invest St Lucia functions as the official government investment promotion agency responsible for stimulating, promoting and facilitating inward investment opportunities for foreign and local investors in some key economic areas. Invest St Lucia provides all investors with the necessary support and facilitation services, and intelligence on local facilities and industry sectors.5
St Lucia started its Citizenship by Investment Programme at the beginning of 2016 having passed its Citizenship by Investment Act in 2015.
The legislative provisions allow the government of St Lucia to grant citizenship to any foreign national that qualifies under the policies of the programme. The Act and Regulations passed under it make provision for three paths to acquiring St Lucian citizenship:
- contributing US$100,000 to the National Development Fund for a single applicant;
- by investment of at least US$300,000 in an approved real estate project in St Lucia; and
- investing US$3.5 million in an approved business in St Lucia.6
VI OUTLOOK AND CONCLUSIONS
The Citizenship by Investment Act underwent some substantial changes at the beginning of 2017. These, along with further minor changes in the coming months to the Act, are likely to encourage more economic activity and investment in projects that should decrease the present level of unemployment by generating new and considerable employment opportunities.
1Jonathan McNamara is an associate at McNamara & Co, Attorneys at Law, and Sam M Bayat is the senior resident lawyer at Bayat Legal Services. The information in this chapter was accurate as at May 2017.
2Diplomacy in Action – US Department of State.