The Corporate Immigration Review: Saint Kitts
Introduction to the immigration framework
The Federation of St Christopher (St Kitts) and Nevis gained its independence from Britain in 1983.2 With a total population of over 57,567, it is the smallest sovereign country in the Americas.
i Legislation and policy
Migration is governed by the Immigration Act.3 The government's advice to those wishing to migrate to St Kitts and Nevis is to visit one of its embassies or missions abroad. These can be found in, for example, Belgium (Brussels), Canada (Ottawa), Cuba (Havana), Jamaica (Kingston), Taiwan (Taipei), Morocco (Rabat), the United Kingdom (London) and the United States (Washington, DC, and New York).4 There is now also a consulate established in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
To be granted the status of resident, the immigrant:
- must be entitled to register as a citizen under the Constitution;
- through educational and other qualifications:
- is employed on a full-time basis in public service or by a government agency;
- is successfully established in a profession, trade or business; or
- is likely to establish himself or herself in a successful business;
- is a child under eighteen years whose parents:
- are permanent residents or citizens of St Kitts and Nevis residing in St Kitts and Nevis;
- establish parenthood of that child to the satisfaction of the relevant minister; and
- are willing and able to provide for the child's care and maintenance; or
- falls under a category prescribed by ministerial order.5
There are five classes of resident, namely permanent residents, annual residents, temporary residents, work permit holder residents and approved citizens of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).6 Application must be made to the Minister responsible for immigration in the prescribed form with presentation of the required documents, such as passport, birth certificate, evidence of own assets and payment of the prescribed fees.7
Permanent residence may be granted to persons who have resided in St Kitts and Nevis for at least seven years and own substantial assets in the Federation, and to persons with sufficient assets who wish to retire in the country. Employers may make application for foreign workers after they have unsuccessfully advertised the position. The work permit recipient must have any required visa and as a matter of policy should also have a return ticket to his or her home country. Some persons, such as children of permanent residents or children of citizens, may be granted annual residence.8 A visa is required by some nations to enter St Kitts and Nevis.9 This may be applied for online or through a local attorney.
ii The immigration authorities
The Immigration Department is established in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security, Immigration and Labour. This department is under the general policy control of the Minister responsible for national security and consists of a chief immigration officer, a deputy chief immigration officer and a number of other senior and junior immigration officers. The power to appoint, remove or exercise disciplinary control over the immigration officers vests in the Governor General, acting in accordance with recommendations of the Public Service Commission.
Foreign nationals are allowed to enter St Kitts and Nevis by air or sea only at a port of entry and with the consent of an immigration officer. Penalties are prescribed for such breaches. The immigration authorities may grant entry in the first instance for periods of up to six months.
iii Exemptions and favoured industries
Some industries, such as light manufacturing industries and tourism, are more favoured than others and benefit from tax and customs duty exemptions. Tourism is regarded as the number-one income generator for the economy and the St Christopher Tourism Authority Act, Chapter 20.36 provides for the promotion and development of tourism. The Hotels Aid Act, Chapter 18.17 makes provision for duty-free materials and equipment for hotel construction.
As a matter of policy, government has granted tax holidays of up to 25 years to hotels, depending on their size.
In relation to manufacturing industries, investors can make application, through the Minister of International Trade, to the Governor General, to have their product or enterprise approved for incentives.10 These incentives include complete or partial tax holidays of 10 to 15 years, depending on the enterprise, and duty-free concessions on plant and equipment. The government, which owns most of the undeveloped former sugar lands, also encourages the development of agriculture. A government agency, the St Kitts Investment Promotion Agency,11 has been established to assist potential investors in setting up businesses in the various industries.
International treaty obligations
The 15 independent countries of CARICOM and the British overseas territory of Montserrat have established a multilateral exchange of benefits for workers, and free trade of goods, by virtue of the CARICOM Treaty and the CARICOM Single Market and Economy agreement. Skilled workers and professionals who are nationals of CARICOM countries may enter and work in St Kitts and Nevis without a visa or work permit.12
A CARICOM citizen must hold a passport from a qualifying CARICOM country and possess a certificate from that country certifying the immigrant as a skilled worker. If all requisite documents are in order, the foreign national will be granted right of entry to St Kitts and Nevis initially for a period of six months, followed by an indefinite stay.
The year in review
Following the outbreak of covid-19 worldwide, the St Kitts and Nevis Citizenship by Investment Unit has taken the necessary measures to make sure that the programme is fully operational during the course of the pandemic and, on 26 March 2020, the Unit announced temporary adjustments to the way it processes files for citizenship by investment.
One of the major changes is that the Unit now accepts applications filed online by agents. These temporary adjustments will remain in force to ensure processing continuity throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Employers are allowed to sponsor foreign employees with skills that are in short supply. Applications for that purpose should be submitted to the Minister responsible for employment. To succeed, the employer is usually required to demonstrate that there is no suitable local employee to fill the post.
i Work permits
A person, other than a citizen, is not entitled to engage in any occupation or accept employment without obtaining a work permit. In addition, a person shall not engage or employ another person who is not a citizen or resident unless there is a valid work permit in force for that person and in relation to the specific employment.
An applicant for a work permit must make the application while the prospective employee is outside the Federation (this requirement does not apply to renewals of work permits). Upon approval, the applicant is required to pay the prescribed fee. The work permit is usually granted for up to one year at a time.
The employer or proposed employer may be required to furnish to the chief immigration officer such security as the Minister may determine sufficient to meet the cost of repatriating the employee and his or her dependants. The work permit will be invalid until any required security is furnished.
An applicant who is refused a work permit may appeal to the High Court under the Rules of Court for a judicial review of the Minister's decision. There is no appeal if entry to the country is refused by the Minister or an immigration officer acting in accordance with the Immigration Act.13
ii Labour market regulation
According to the Labour Act, the labour market is supervised and monitored by the Department of Labour.14 The Labour Commissioner who heads the Department of Labour supervises and inspects worker's conditions of employment.
There are a number of regulations under various pieces of legislation that make up the framework of employer and employee relations. These include:
- Holidays with Pay Act (Chapter 18.15);
- Labour (Minimum Wage) Act (Chapter 18.19);
- Protection of Employment Act (Chapter 18.27);
- Protection of Wages Act (Chapter 18.28); and
- Social Security Act (Chapter 22.10).
By far the most comprehensive piece of legislation is the Protection of Employment Act, which lays out the regulations dealing with such topics as termination of employment, establishment of a severance payment fund to provide for severance payments to employees, payment in lieu of notice, requirements of an employment contract and notification to the Labour Commissioner. These regulations apply to workers generally, whether local or foreign, but do not apply to government employees, who are governed by their own regulations.
iii Rights and duties of sponsored employees
Employees holding work permits are required to work only for the sponsoring employer, in the requested employment. The employee is required to leave the country upon the completion of the work contract.
Investors, skilled migrants and entrepreneurs
St Kitts and Nevis welcomes investors and makes provisions under various laws and institutions for their participation in the economy.15
The Immigration Act provides several categories of persons who can be granted residence that allows them to be employed without a sponsor. These include persons who, because of their education, occupational qualifications, personal history, employment record, training skills or other special qualifications, are likely to establish themselves successfully in a profession, trade business or agricultural enterprise and have sufficient means of support. Residence can also be granted to persons who own substantial assets in the Federation, the sufficiency of which is determined by the Minister responsible for immigration on the advice of the Cabinet.
The Economic Citizenship programme provides another avenue for unsponsored self-employed people, but the oldest and perhaps best programme is the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programme. A foreign national may apply to the Citizenship by Investment Unit for registration as a citizen through an authorised local agent in two ways: by purchasing an approved property and holding it for at least five years; or by contributing to the Sustainable Growth Fund (SGF).16
Investors may qualify for citizenship through the SGF following payment of a donation sum. A contribution of US$150,000 is required for a single applicant. For a family of up to four, a contribution of US$195,000 is required.
The real estate option requires foreigners to invest in the government's approved real estate project to qualify for the CBI programme. The minimum real estate investment required by law is US$200,000 (resalable after seven years) or US$400,000 (resalable after five years) for each main applicant, plus the government fee of US$35,050 for the main applicant, US$20,050 for his or her spouse and US$10,050 for each qualifying dependant.
Applicants are expected to be of good character, good health and high net worth. This is the only programme that features the Accelerated Application Process, which guarantees eligible applicants receipt of citizenship and passport issuance within 60 days.
On approval, the economic citizen will have all the rights of a natural citizen, except for voting rights, and can therefore engage in all types of business and employment.
Outlook and conclusions
St Kitts and Nevis' upward economic trajectory has been based on strong tourism activity. An increase in stay-over arrivals has benefited hotels and restaurants and the distributive trades. At the same time, construction of new tourism facilities and public infrastructure on both islands has continued. Although expenditure growth has outpaced tax revenue growth, the fiscal situation remains upbeat as record CBI revenues have led to a large fiscal surplus.
As at 2019, the twin-island country has extended visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 152 countries and this figure will continue to climb in the coming years. Gross domestic product (GDP) in St Kitts and Nevis was worth US$1.09 billion in 2019, with this GDP value representing less than 0.01 per cent of the world economy.
Although one of the oldest in the world, the St Kitts and Nevis CBI programme still retains its rank among others globally, as well as being ahead of its Caribbean competitors. According to statistics for 2019, the programme ranked fourth worldwide, with a market share of 4.9 per cent of the total CBI market, and first among its Caribbean competitors.
1 Sam M Bayat is the senior resident lawyer and Moustafa Seddik is a lawyer at Bayat Legal Services. The authors would like to thank Mr Erick Ramirez for his research and assistance in the preparation of this chapter.
2 Statutory Instrument No. 881 of 1983.
3 Chapter 6.02 of the Laws of St Christopher and Nevis.
5 Immigration Act, Section 5(2).
6 Immigration Act, Section 6(1).
7 Immigration Act, Third Schedule – Immigration Regulations.
8 Immigration Act, Section 6.
10 Fiscal Incentives Act (Chapter 20.14).
12 Caribbean Community Skilled Nationals Act (Chapter 25.04).
13 Immigration Act, Section 23 (Chapter 6.02).
14 Labour Act (Chapter 18.18).
15 Immigration Act, Fiscal Incentives Act, Hotel Aids Act and Citizenship Act 1984 and Sections 90–95 of the St Christopher and Nevis Constitution of 1983.
16 St Christopher and Nevis Statutory Rules and Orders No. 7 of 2018.