Lebanese “buy their freedom” by buying foreign passports and residences

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Beirut (AFP) – Jad, a Lebanese executive working in Dubai, lost hope of returning to his country due to the economic collapse and got tired of waiting for visas for his business trips, so he paid $ 135,000 to buy a passport. foreign.

A month later, he received a package containing his and his wife’s passports, issued by Saint Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean.

Gad and his wife can now travel to more than 150 countries, including Europe, without having to obtain entry visas.

The new document is a qualitative step in Gad’s life, as the Henley Passport Index ranked the Lebanese passport among the worst in the world in terms of ease of obtaining visas. Also, today it has become almost impossible to renew the passport due to the exhaustion of stocks and lack of funding, in a country that is experiencing a severe economic crisis since the fall of 2019.

“Three years ago, I could not have imagined that I could buy a passport. But now, because of the situation in Lebanon and because we can afford it, we have finally done it,” says Jad. who asked you not to use his last name to maintain his privacy.

Saint Kitts and Nevis, with a population of just 55,000, launched its passport-selling program just one year after gaining independence in 1983. His passport ranks 25th in the world, according to the Henley Index, which ranks nuts by the access they provide. to the holder.

Nationality acquisition programs attract wealthy people from countries experiencing economic crises or sanctions, such as Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and finally Lebanon.

Today, many wealthy Lebanese, most of whom work or invest in Gulf or African countries, are rushing to buy passports or obtain residences abroad, having lost hope that Lebanon would emerge at any time close to stormy collapse. economic.

The collapse triggered a massive wave of migration. For several months, the queues that began to form at dawn in front of the General Security stations, which last month announced that they had stopped issuing passports, did not disappear as the stock was about to expire.

“It’s the solution”

And the demands to buy passports are increasing, especially in the Caribbean islands, because those who wish can get them within a few months for a lot of money, without having to visit their new country.

Jose Charo, director of the Beirut branch of Swiss consultancy Legacy, a passport and residency through investment program, speaks to AFP at his office in the Lebanese capital on April 12, 2022. Anwar Amr AP

Gad recounts that when he first traveled to Paris with his new document, the airport staff saw my passport and told me I was coming from a “beautiful place”.

“But I’ve never really been there,” he adds.

And not only Gadi, but also his friends are shopping for “island passports”, and some of them are seeing the opportunity to invest in European countries like Greece and Portugal in exchange for permanent residence.

“What is happening is not just a general trend, but it is the solution,” says Gad.

As long as Lebanese in the Gulf countries in particular, numbering around 350,000, including 100,000 in the Emirates, are stuck between diplomatic and political tensions that add to their fear of losing a lifestyle they had made.

And last year, the Saudi-led Gulf states withdrew their ambassadors from Lebanon for more than five months, amid statements by a ministry criticizing the Riyadh-led military intervention in Yemen.

Kuwait decided at the time to “tighten up” on issuing visas to Lebanese, which raised immigrants’ fears that other countries would use the same step.

“It all made me think there was a problem and I did not want to risk my job in the Gulf,” said Marielle Bou Harb, a 35-year-old Lebanese businessman in Dubai.

Last year Marielli bought four passports from Saint Kitts for him, his wife and their two children, after being tempted by an offer to deduct $ 50,000 from the cost due to the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic on the island, which depends largely on tourist services.

A passport usually costs $ 150,000, which is paid as a donation to the Sustainable Growth Fund in a country that installed its first traffic lights in its capital in 2018.

Other Caribbean islands also sell their passports, such as Grenada, Antigua, Barbuda and Dominica.

“They are buying their freedom”

As for Lebanon, where more than eighty percent of the population is below the poverty line, only a few can buy foreign passports.

Over the past two years, the work of companies specializing in passport advice has flourished and their advertising has increased, whether through billboards, inside the airport, or through text messages.

In 2020, Ziad Karkaji turned his real estate company into Global Pass, a passport consulting firm. “Our business has grown by at least forty percent between 2020 and 2021,” he says.

As a result of the economic collapse and subsequent explosion of the Port of Beirut in 2020, the number of Lebanese clients increased fivefold for the Swiss consulting company Legacy, in which Jose Charo works.

The Lebanese now make up a quarter of the company’s customers, which Charo runs its Beirut-based branch.

And if the client wants a solution that will allow him to easily obtain an investor visa in the United States, according to Sharow, it is better to obtain the citizenship of the island of Grenada.

As for those who want to retire or settle abroad, Charo advises investing about a quarter of a million dollars in exchange for permanent residence in Greece or Portugal.

“This sector will continue to flourish, unfortunately for the country, but fortunately for us,” he said.

He adds that the Lebanese are “buying their freedom”.

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