While border closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic were supposed to be temporary, more than 18 months after the pandemic began many foreign countries have still not restarted consular operations. Borders of the UK, European Union and beyond remain heavily restricted.
“This has been catastrophic for Gambia’s incoming tourist industry. The effect on outbound travel has been less obvious but equally serious. In today’s globalized world, with information overload on the internet, there is simply no substitute for personal meetings. There are fewer people travelling out, but they are doing bigger deals. Our best and brightest businessmen need to travel, negotiate, export, and manage their overseas business relationships. Without this essential commercial interaction, that is often taken for granted, the country will continue to suffer further economic hardship.”
The solution that many West African businesspeople are looking at may appear radical at first: investing in countries that offer citizenship by investment so that they can travel to the UK, Europe and beyond without any requirement for visa.
As Ted McEwan, director of the newly-opened NTL Trust office in The Gambia, explains, “we don’t call it ‘buying’ a passport. That term is potentially misleading. In fact, we are talking about a much more sophisticated symbiotic relationship designed to support local business people in developing their international business, increasing exports and bringing much-needed foreign investment to our country. Citizenship by investment is not just a short term transaction - it’s a lifelong relationship, with the benefits of a second passport even passing down to the next generation. Of course, there are financial benefits to the other nation involved too. And needless to say, it’s fully legal, transparent and documented.”
Citizenship by investment has already taken off in recent years in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. NTL Trust’s new office in Banjul seeks to expand access to these programs to businesspeople not just here but in Senegal, Ghana and other major business hubs in the region.
“We chose Gambia because it’s a safe and secure place to do business. Clients like to fly in here for a few days - spend a few days at a luxury beach resort with their loved ones - and during that time with our concierge service they can complete all the necessary paperwork to apply for citizenship by investment in the Caribbean before returning home,” explains Mr. McEwan, a native of Banjul.
“Of course, we also choose Gambia as a hub also because I am Gambian myself. I have lived much of my life overseas and understand the value of international business connections, and maintaining them.
“The founder of NTL Trust had previously tried to promote in Nigeria but found it overwhelming. When he came to Gambia, we saw over the course of the week how he felt at home. I feel sure that this initiative will also bring more foreign investors to the Gambia in the longer term. By way of example, NTL Trust also represents high net worth investors from other countries that are looking for opportunities in markets such as ours. There is already a well-advanced project from NTL Trust’s owners to set up a new Investment Bank here in the Gambia, something we are working on with GIEPA.”
Citizenship by investment basically involves creating a long term link with a foreign country by purchasing real estate. The real estate will typically be located on one of five Caribbean nations that have been quietly offering this incentive since the 1980s: St Kitts-Nevis, Antigua Grenada, St Lucia and Dominica. The real estate, such as an apartment, hotel room or property fraction, is available to the citizen and his family for vacation use, should produce a rental return, and can be resold after a designated holding period - typically 4-7 years. In return for this investment, starting at around US$250,000, the businessman, his family and their future offspring will receive citizenship and passports of the chosen Caribbean nation.
Why would anyone need a second passport?
“If you have to ask that question, you probably don’t need one,” jokes McEwan. “But seriously… the sad fact is, our passports are not good for travel. You have to get visas to go anywhere. This is a form of discrimination. But it’s a problem that doesn’t apply, for example, to Caribbean passports that have easy visa-free access to the UK, Europe and beyond.”