Every country has a path to naturalization through its constitution and law of nationality. In most countries, eligibility for citizenship and a passport requires a period of extended legal and physical residence of one year to 10 years or more. The applicant must also demonstrate good conduct, full compliance with immigration rules, some degree of language proficiency, as well as substantial integration into the local culture. In these “white market” passports, the applicant obtains citizenship and a passport through normal means set forth in the law.
A country’s nationality laws may reduce or even eliminate the required residence period before naturalization and issuance of a white-market passport by:
- Permitting citizens the right to bring a non-resident spouse into the country as a legal resident. After a shorter than normal period of residence, the spouse is eligible to apply for citizenship and passport. For instance, in Belize the period of normal residence required to obtain a passport is five years. However, the non-citizen spouse of a Belize citizen is eligible for citizenship and passport after only one year.
- Permitting citizens the right to bring an adopted child into the country as a legal resident. Again, after a shorter than normal period of residence, the parent may sponsor the child for citizenship and passport.
- Providing that descendents of persons born in that country who emigrated from it can, in effect, reclaim their forefather’s nationality. Many countries give the children of emigrants this privilege, and a few, including Ireland and Italy, extend it to grandchildren.
- Allowing residents of overseas territories of that nation to acquire a citizenship and passport. For instance, individuals legally resident in one of the Dutch Caribbean island territories for a period of five years or longer may qualify for a Dutch passport. Successful applicants must also demonstrate good conduct and substantial integration, including oral and written fluency in the Dutch language.
- Giving the government the right to bypass normal naturalization requirements if a person applying for citizenship has provided extraordinary services. The services may be artistic, cultural, sports-related, or financial. The economic citizenship programs of St. Kitts & Nevis and Dominica fit under this category. In most other countries, there is no economic citizenship program as such, yet the government will occasionally award citizenship and passport based on extraordinary service. In a few of those countries, those criteria are negotiated in advance so that an applicant knows in advance with reasonable certainty the likely outcome.
To obtain a white-market passport using one of these provisions, you must prove entitlement to citizenship. For instance, if you apply for naturalization after marrying a local citizen, you’ll need to submit to an interview and an investigation of your family life. Both you and your spouse will be interviewed. If the answers don’t match, or don’t add up, your application will be rejected. You—and especially your spouse—may also be liable to civil and criminal penalties
Grey Market and Black Market Passports
A grey market passport is one where not all the criteria ordinarily necessary for its issuance are enforced. In recent years, promoters have offered passports from Belize, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Greece, Guyana, Lithuania, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Portugal, Romania, and other countries on this basis. In most cases, the promoter finds a corruptible insider with the ability to issue a passport with few if any questions asked.
The passport is genuine and officially issued, but in an unofficial and unauthorized manner. Depending on the quality of the insider access, a certificate of naturalization may or may not accompany the passport. Without naturalization, it may not be possible to renew the passport, to use it to enter and leave the country, or even to open a local bank account.
A black market passport is one that is counterfeited or manufactured from lost or stolen blanks. The passport itself is not genuine, nor is it officially issued. National intelligence agencies, organized crime families, and terrorist groups all trade in black market passports. In recent years, black market passports from Belgium, Canada, Suriname, and the United Kingdom have become available.
Using grey market or black market passports poses considerable risks. Border control authorities in most countries receive updates regularly from Interpol and other sources of blacklisted passport numbers. There is a constant chance of discovery, especially with black market documents. Grey market passports may be cancelled anytime, especially after the insider responsible for their issuance is discovered or leaves office. In virtually all cases, it is impossible to renew grey market or black market passports.
Due Diligence in Second Passports
In conducting due diligence on second passport offerings, I look for the following red flags:
- Too cheap. The total cost of the least expensive white-market economic citizenship program, in the Commonwealth of Dominica, comes to about $100,000 for a single applicant or $130,000 for a married applicant with up to two children under the age of 18. Any passport issued for much less than that amount should be presumed to be grey-market, unless the person offering can point to specific black-letter law authorizing its issuance.
- Too easy. No country issues a certificate of nationality and a passport without a detailed application process, including completion of official application forms, a background check, and in virtually all cases, at least one personal visit. (St. Kitts & Nevis is an exception in that no personal visit is required for its economic citizenship program.)
- Too fast. No government can approve an application for citizenship and passport in only a few days. The fastest authorities can conduct a reasonably complete investigation and move the application through several layers of bureaucracy is two or three months, and usually much longer.
- Too anonymous. Any promoter that tells you that you have to pay cash for your passport, that the ability to issue the passport is based on a secret law or regulation, or that promises to issue you a passport in any name you choose, falls into this category.
- Too limited. Passports that come without a certificate of nationality fit into this category. The instant passport from Panama is an example, although an ordinary Panamanian passport issued with nationality after an extended period of residence is an acceptable travel document.
- Too good to be true. Diplomatic passports are almost always in this category. This type of passport is often marketed as providing the bearer the right to bypass border controls and local taxation. Some categories of diplomatic passports convey these rights, but the vast majority of those offered to the public involve grey-market documents. International travel on a diplomatic passport may also require that the diplomatic service of the issuing country apply for an official visa listing the purpose for every country visited. With a grey market diplomatic passport, it’s virtually impossible to apply for, much less receive, the official visa.
- Too late. Some promoters continue to market now-defunct economic citizenship programs in Belize and Grenada. Each terminated its economic citizenship program more than a decade ago, although there have been recent discussions about reviving it in both countries.
Stick with White-Market Passports
Avoid grey market or black market passports. They may be revoked anytime and you could be subject to arrest and/or deportation.
The Nestmann Group, Ltd. can assist individuals seeking a legitimate white-market passport through an economic contribution or investment in the Commonwealth of Dominica, the Federation of St. Kitts & Nevis, and in selected EU countries. Please contact us for more information.
Copyright © 2012 by Mark Nestmann