Some countries to recommend revocation of visa-free travel from Vanuatu

Canberra: Officials from several European and Pacific countries are recommending their Foreign Ministries to take back visa-free travel access from Vanuatu following the non-professional conduct of their Citizenship by Investment program and lack of vetting of the applicants.

The measures would no longer allow people who wish to travel from Vanuatu by taking benefit of the visa waiver agreement between certain countries. A Spokesperson of an economically strong country said that due to “Non-professional” conduct of Citizenship by Investment programme, authorities are worried that people with a history of criminal conduct can enter the their borders without a visa, and highlighted the situation is very “alarming.”

A large portion of the 100 countries that provide visa-free or visa on arrival access to Vanuatu passport holders are now considering to take back their agreements, following the recent misconducts in the Citizenship by Investment Programme. However, the embassies of the respective countries has not yet given their reply to the questions related to revoking the visa-free agreement.

Vanuatu, a small multi-island nation offers Citizenship in exchange of donation towards national development projects and recently, it has also introduced a real estate option for people who wish to have assets in exchange for their investment. Income from the CBI programme accounts for more than 50% of the national revenue for Vanuatu. The ‘Expansion’ of the programme has been marred by not only the leader of opposition, Ralph Regenvanu but also criticized by international media, including ABC Australia and earlier by The Guardian, UK, which rooted out the controversy of international fugitives who had been issued the Vanuatu passports.

Another controversy surrounding this programme was the recent offering of Citizenship to stateless people by a controversial figure, Thi Tham Goiset, the director of Vanuatu Lifestyle. She said the new initiative is a way to support people who face discrimination in their homelands. Leading intelligence agencies immediately red-flag this as a danger to the international community and condemned her irresponsibility.

It seems Vanuatu wants to act autonomously with no regard for criminals crossing borders using their Citizenship. Recently some bold promises of change were made by Prime Minister, Bob Loughman indicating major changes to the management of their CBI programme, however again they appear to operate with total disregard to the safety of the international community.

In November, 2021 PM Loughman had announced that government would soon contract with an independent firm to help screen the applicants under the Citizenship programme, so far, no real-time actions are seen by the government. In a written response to the Leader of Opposition, PM Loughman had stated that an international and experienced firm would be engaged to assist the government in terms of screening of citizenship applications before the end of 2021, reports the Daily Post of Vanuatu.

Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Bob Loughman
Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Bob Loughman

“To address the full implementation of the 2020 review report, the government will engage a firm with international experience to assist us to develop a strong, vibrant and adaptive architecture of the citizenship development program,” said PM Loughman

Vanuatu offers visa-free access to over 100 countries around the world which includes, the UK and many European countries. Due diligence is criticized and said that they do not have any other independent company to conduct strict vetting, which has also been criticized by several international intelligence entities.

It seems Vanuatu wants to act autonomously with no regard for criminals crossing borders using their Citizenship. Recently some bold promises of change were made by Prime Minister, Bob Loughman in the local Vanuatu Daily Post indicating major changes to the management of their CBI programme, however again they appear to operate with total disregard to the safety of the international community.

Several Citizenship by Investment agents have clarified that if Vanuatu loses visa-free travel partnership its major allies, it would be a big blow to their programme of Citizenship and there are chances that a larger number of people will decline to invest in such programme as most crucial USP of Citizenship is visa-free access. As mentioned above, the recurrent revenue of Vanuatu would drastically drop by nearly 50% in case of failure in upkeeping the Citizenship Programme reputation.

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