By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Cabinet Minister believes the Government’s proposed ‘user-friendly’ Immigration policy can “revolutionise” the Bahamas’ position as an international business centre, suggesting it was likely to have been the financial services industry’s leading priority.
Ryan Pinder, minister of financial services, indicated that the policy now under development was designed to attract high net worth investors to follow their assets to the Bahamas, domiciling here and, ultimately, potentially investing in the domestic economy.
Suggesting that the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s (OECD) automatic exchange of tax information policies stood to aid the Bahamas’ goals in this area, Mr Pinder pointed to Albany and Baha Mar - and their Bahamas-based billionaire principals - as examples of what the Government hoped to achieve.
“If you look at Joe Lewis and Sarkis Izmirlian and his family, who came to the Bahamas for tax investment purposes, turned around and invested billions of dollars in the local economy to develop high-end hotels and luxury residential communities, those are the type of people we want to attract to come to the Bahamas, invest in the Bahamas and to develop in the Bahamas,” he told Tribune Business.
The proposed revised Immigration policy is thus looking beyond attracting mere second home owners, instead also looking to bring in wealthy clients and entrepreneurs who would be willing to invest in the Bahamian economy, creating local jobs and investment.
Mr Pinder said: “We’re working on transparency and to have a defined residential product that we can use to develop local businesses here, but also aid us as a country to position ourselves in the face of international initiatives against so-called offshore centres.
“The OECD release on February 13 on automatic exchange, it models automatic exchange based on tax residency, not citizenship. It helps the Bahamas position itself in that context. It’s quicker and more efficient taking a product to market that has defined rules and parameters, than something ad-hoc.”
The Bahamian financial services industry has long argued that perception, not reality, over Immigration policy has harmed its - and the nation’s - competitiveness when fighting with others for business and high-end clients. The likes of the Cayman Islands, in particular, are seen as having a more progressive and flexible policy when it comes to attracting residents and skilled professionals.
Mr Pinder said the Government’s ultimate goal with the new policy was to produce “a product we can take to market”. Emphasising that this was not a route to giving away citizenship, he explained that the policy would set out standards - who could qualify, and how - plus also detail the process involved, what was required at each stage and timelines. Non-resident investments would largely be confined to areas consistent with the National Investment Policy.
When asked how important an initiative this was for the financial services industry, Mr Pinder replied:: “It might be the number one request...... They believe it can revolutionise the position of the Bahamas, as it builds substance over form. We’d like to do it in short order.”
Prime Minister Perry Christie told Parliament last week that his administration has been working on proposals to ensure the Bahamas designs a “transparent, predictable and user friendly” Immigration policy, adding that he was seeking to attract homeowners and job and wealth creators.
“The Bahamian slice of the financial services pie cannot expand until the entire pie expands, and this will require new thinking and a new level of tolerance,” the Prime Minister said.
“The Bahamas is not alone in this realisation. I look at the wealthy OECD countries - the UK, Australia, Canada, the US and much of Europe, and our major offshore competitors like the Cayman Islands. Each of these countries has transparent and predictable paths to attract foreign persons with significant talent and means to their financial services sectors.
“Each of these countries is also ensuring that they attract the brightest and the best in the world. Indeed, as the world becomes increasingly smaller, the Bahamas loses out by not also attracting the persons that it needs to grow its pie,” added Mr Christie.
“The financial services industry assures me that with the right government policy, a development focused Immigration policy, a large number of persons are willing to invest in the country and to choosethe Bahamas as their place of primary residence.”
Mr Christie said he wanted to attract people who wished to establish businesses along the lines of the National Investment Policy, and those which complement the existing skills pool of the Bahamas and encourage higher education.