Why we don’t ever report on Vanuatu’s CBI program

In the market for a second passport via a Citizenship By Investment (CBI) program? While we report on CBI programs around the world routinely, there’s one program we hardly ever mention – the Vanuatu CBI.

Here’s why…

Situated in the South Pacific, northeast of Australia, Vanuatu is a tiny island nation. The country has been host to the TV show Survivor, but is also home to the world’s fastest Citizenship By Investment program.

At Sovereign Man we’re not massive fans of the country’s CBI program, which was launched in 2017 (an earlier version launched in 2015.) Hence we’ve hardly ever written about it, and we don’t present it as an option to our members either.

There are, however, many reasons why people do consider the program. First and foremost is the program’s speed of processing. Vanuatu is the only program in the world today enabling you to obtain a second passport in 30 days flat.

In contrast, Caribbean CBIs will typically only see you getting your second citizenship in four to six months.

So if time is of the essence, then perhaps this program might be your first choice. As things stood before May 3d, the country’s passport was a reasonable travel document – it offered visa-free access to 118 countries, earning it a “B- Grade” in the Sovereign Man Passport Index.

But this score has just dropped substantially, given a nine-month revocation of the country’s visa-free access to the Schengen Area. (More on that below.)

So from a quality and program stability point of view, Vanuatu’s CBI leaves quite a bit to be desired.
But let’s start at the very beginning. Vanuatu’s CBI has been one of the most confusing and unpolished programs of its kind since inception (perhaps with the exception of Moldova, which was effectively stillborn, and North Macedonia, where the government is yet to formally confirm its existence).

The program has gone through various iterations, and for a while the program actually comprised two parallel programs, leading to marketplace confusion.

The Vanuatu Contribution Program (VCP) was only offered to Chinese nationals by a single Hong Kong based agent, whereas the “standard” Vanuatu Development Support Program (VDSP) is being promoted by scores of government approved agents globally.

Then there was the issue of Vanuatu initially referring to this citizenship as an “Honorary Citizenship”, leading to valid questions being asked about whether Vanuatu’s legislation actually supported the issuance of “true” citizenship under the program.

(The program’s critics have really made a point of keeping this particular debate alive over the years.)
And for a number of years, the program was routinely plagued by bad press. Allegations of insufficient due diligence screening were rife. So too were insinuations that bad actors were gaining “backdoor access” to the UK and Schengen Europe via the Vanuatu passport’s visa-free access to both.

When it comes to residency and citizenship programs, change tends to be the only constant. And while this is to be expected – we’re dealing with governments here, after all – “program changes” is the last phrase that Citizenship By Investment applicants want to hear.

The Eye of Sauron in Brussels has been squarely focused on CBI programs in recent years, and has recently started taking serious aim at Vanuatu.

The EU’s allegations have been, in large part, informed by the fact that the program’s rejections rates are so low. The reality is that service providers for the program weed out potential bad actors, so they never even get to apply. These accusations are therefore rather disingenuous – but perhaps not entirely unfounded.

The reality is that EU politicians can score cheap political points at home by bashing Vanuatu – without any real downsides.

But be that as it may, Vanuatu ignored a number of warnings by the EU to get their house in order. Hence, on May 3d, the Vanuatu passport formally lost its visa-free access to the Schengen Area for a period of nine months.

And no one who acquired a passport via this CBI program can be thrilled right now.
While the EU isn’t going after the rest of the Caribbean programs – yet – it is likely just going to be a matter of time…

In the interim, however, there is a range of other CBI programs with solid reputations to choose from – think St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, etc.

The bottomline

Vanuatu is too far away from anywhere to serve as a viable Plan B location – unless you’re an Australian. And getting there was effectively impossible during the pandemic. So while there are numerous other CBI programs, including those in the Caribbean, which we are happy to present as options to our members, we’d personally give the Vanuatu program a miss.

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