Rich Americans are fleeing to the Caribbean as they swap COVID-19, fears around the upcoming election and even their US citizenship for a winter working remotely in the sun.
Business has been booming in recent months for citizenship advisers, government agencies and real estate developers in several Caribbean islands including Grenada, Dominica, Barbados and St Kitts and Nevis.
Applications for citizenship and visas for Caribbean islands are surging as people take advantage of the 12-month ‘Welcome Stamp’ initiative launched by Barbados in July, which encourages remote workers to enjoy a long-term stay in the sun.
More than 1,100 have so far applied for the scheme and a similar offering in St Kitts and Nevis is also witnessing a surge in interest.
This comes as stark data reveals a growing number of people with dual nationality are ditching their American citizenship and turning their backs on the nation for good.
With the pandemic rumbling on, no clear sign of a vaccine and many workplaces switching to a more permanent working from home model, there has been a mass exodus out of the US’s biggest cities such as New York and New Jersey to more rural states such as Vermont and Oregon in recent months.
But the wealthy are jetting off even further afield, packing up for a long-term stay on a paradise Caribbean island.
The shift to home working and the escalating tensions surrounding the upcoming November election have created a melting point where people want to escape US soil altogether, industry insiders told Forbes.
Mohammed Asaria, whose Range Developments is developing a new luxury Six Senses resort in Grenada, said Americans are fleeing because they want to ‘hide it out’ from the election.
‘You’ve got the election coming. That’s number one,’ he told Forbes.
‘You’ve had COVID and certain places in the US have been challenged through that, and more working remotely.’
Asaria said the rich are snapping up second or third homes they can hide out in if ‘a second or third wave’ of the virus comes.
‘It’s the first time the US has gone through a period like this and it’s not just the Covid-19 situation,’ said Gregor Nassief, proprietor of luxury villas Secret Bay in Dominica.
‘It is the fear of what an extreme outcome on the left or right may look like after the presidential election.’
In July, Barbados launched its new 12-month temporary visa for remote workers to live and work in the country for up to a year.
The visa, which costs $2,000 for an individual or $3,000 for a family, exempts the holder from Barbados Income Tax.
Around 1,100 applications have been filed in the two months since its launch, with 42 percent of applicants from the US.
Other islands are also witnessing a growth in interest for long-term stays.
Nassief said US inquiries for Secret Bay in Dominica have surged 66 percent in recent months because of the American exodus.
Major hotel chains including Hilton and Marriott have also started offering long-term booking deals to tap into this budding market.
The Marriott Residences St Kitts advertises a long-term rental of 12 months or longer with studios starting from US$1,575.
Many visitors are wanting to set up more permanent roots to the island by getting citizenship.
St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada and Dominica each run a ‘Citizenship By Investment’ or CBI scheme.
The scheme, which has been in operation in St Kitts and Nevis since 1984, has long attracted Chinese and Middle East investors who want dual passports but don’t visit the islands.
‘We have seen an uptick in applications from the US for people who want an alternative passport,’ he said.
‘Individuals who are from the US apply for St Kitts passport are doing so to want to come and change their lifestyles and live on the island.’
Applicants are granted citizenship by either contributing to a sovereign fund or investing at least $200,000 on real estate.
In St Kitts, the real estate purchases must be for government approved projects – something Khan said the surge in applicants is now depleting.
The island is now exploring the option of expanding this to private homes to meet the demand for property from foreign investors, he said.
A rise in demand for Caribbean citizenship comes as data suggests US citizenship is falling out of favor.
More than double the number of Americans with dual nationality have ditched their US citizenship in the first half of 2020 compared to the whole of 2019, according to Bambridge Accountants.
A total of 5,816 Americans gave up their citizenship – a staggering 1,210 percent surge in the number of people renouncing their passports from the previous six months.
Alistair Bambridge, partner at Bambridge Accountants New York, told Forbes much of the decision is due to tax reasons.
‘The huge increase in US expats renouncing from our experience is that the current pandemic has allowed individuals the time to review their ties to the US and decide that the current political climate and annual US tax reporting is just too much to bear,’ he said.
But as the rich buy up land and second and third homes in the Caribbean it is unclear what long-term impact this will have on property and land prices on the islands – and in turn the potential strain it could have on the abilities of local residents to buy homes.