0

Investment Bar Cut For Troubled Family Islands

Financial Services, Trade and Industry Minister Brent Symonette.

Financial Services, Trade and Industry Minister Brent Symonette.

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Government was yesterday said to be “putting the meat on the bones” of plans to lower the permanent residency investment threshold for economically-depressed Bahamian islands.

Brent Symonette, minister of financial services, trade and industry and Immigration, confirmed to Tribune Business that the Minnis administration had already “agreed” to move away from the ‘one size fits all’ approach to real estate-related permanent residency investments.

While the Government is proceeding with plans to raise the threshold from $500,000 to $750,000 for more vibrant real estate markets, such as Nassau and Abaco, Mr Symonette said it would “more than likely come down” for certain struggling island economies.

“That’s already been given consideration,” Mr Symonette replied, when questioned by Tribune Business. “That’s been agreed. Certain areas will not go up, and will more than likely come down.

“There will be areas that are not as developed and resilient as Nassau, so we’re outlining those areas at the moment.... We’re working out the details of that plan, and will give it to you shortly. $750,000 in Nassau is a lot different from $750,000 in Freeport, where the duty and tax structure is totally different. It’s just a question of putting the meat on the bones.”

The Minister reiterated that the initiative had moved past the “consideration” stage, and added that lower permanent residency investment thresholds could be applied to parts of an island - not just a whole island.

The Government’s policy initiative will likely be warmly welcomed by realtors, attorneys and other Bahamian professionals who benefit from the second home market, some of whom have called for just such an approach in recent weeks.

It also ties into the Commercial Enterprises Bill, which establishes ‘specified commercial enterprise zones’ “for the purposes of rationalising infrastructure investment, efficient land use or the encouragement of clusters of commercial development”. Investment incentives specific to each zone can be developed.

George Damianos, Damianos Sotheby’s International Realty’s president, urged the Government to be “a little more creative” with the permanent residency product in a recent Tribune Business interview, and move away from the ‘blanket’ threshold standard.

The rationale behind Mr Damianos’s proposal was that lower permanent residency thresholds for struggling island economies would entice wealthy foreign buyers to those locations, spreading them throughout the Bahamas and helping to distribute economic activity more evenly, given that the spending generated by their presence will create jobs and boost businesses.

He was backed by Terence Gape, senior partner at Dupuch & Turnquest, who told Tribune Business that the Government needed to use permanent residency as an economic stimulus tool and cut the threshold to $350,000 for Freeport.

Tribune Business understands that $350,000 is the number being considered by the Government for Freeport, and the ‘horses for courses’ threshold approach has received further backing from prominent realtors and Chamber of Commerce executives.

Mario Carey, chairman of Better Homes and Gardens MCR Bahamas Group, told Tribune Business in a recent interview that he “totally agrees one size doesn’t fit all”.

“Every island should have its own threshold based on activity,” he suggested. “Every location, every island, has its own market. That’s very real. How come we’ve been so closed-eye to that, and thinking that, for so long. It makes a lot of sense.

“To buy a property for $500,000 in Long Island, it would be one of the most expensive properties there. You’re not going to spend that; are you ever going to get out? We’re in a very competitive market, and a lot of people are going after these investments. We’re not in a bubble.”

Roderick Simms, head of the Chamber of Commerce’s Family Island division, told Tribune Business that a properly “tailored” permanent residency policy could help the Bahamas “get a return” on its considerable infrastructure investments throughout the archipelago.

He argued that residency certificates for Family Island homeowners mandate that they live on a specific island for at least nine months of the year, otherwise these and other benefits will be taken away.

“We have to attract people to other parts of the country, as the growth of the Bahamas is in the Family Islands, not in Nassau,” Mr Simms said. “Maybe you need to decrease it to $150,000 for Inagua, $250,000 for Mayaguana.

“The investment policy needs to be tailored to each island; the permanent residency threshold needs to be tailored to each island economy. They have reside on a particular island for nine months of the year, and if they violate that the residency permit is null and void.

“It can’t be transferred around the country. You have to stay in that island. We can’t allow people to come through Inagua to Nassau. Your permanent residency is married to the island that you invest in.”

Mr Simms added that the Bahamas needed to “decentralise” its economy, and attracting second home owners and foreign investors to the Family Islands could provide the taxes necessary to sustain their infrastructure.

“We’re too Nassau-centric,” he added, “and we have so much infrastructure on these islands as it is. We have to find ways to get a return on the investment we have in the Family Islands.

“We have millions of dollars in electricity lines, water lines. We have to find ways to get a Return on Investment (ROI) back. We have to look at them individually; we have to look at them as island states.”

Mr Symonette, though, strongly hinted that the Government plans to increase the permanent residency investment threshold from $500,000 to $750,000 for New Providence and stronger island markets.

He emphasised that the threshold only applied to second homeowners/investors seeking speedy approval of their permanent residency applications, and was not meant to be a deterrent or bar.

“If you look at the value of housing in the Bahamas, $750,000 is not out of line,” Mr Symonette told Tribune Business. “I’ve met with people who raised objections, I see their concerns, and we’ll take a look at whether or not we can accommodate them with what we are trying to achieve.

“We’re trying to attract wealthy clients that bring something to the Bahamas by way of permanent residency. When you look at the real estate market and see what $500,000 buys you, and what $750,000 buys you, it’s pretty clear where we want to be.”

The Bahamas Real Estate Association (BREA), and its members, have been opposed to any increase in the real estate investment threshold for expedited permanent residency applications. They were against the former Christie administration’s plans to raise this to $1 million, and have taken a similar stance on its successor’s plan - albeit that the proposed increase is 50 per cent less.

Tribune Business understands that the Government has been asked to consider a smaller increase to $600,000, with real estate and other industries’ concerns centred more on ‘the bigger picture’.

They believe the increase to $750,000 cannot be viewed in isolation, and has to be compared to the thresholds/benchmarks established for permanent residency and citizenship in other Caribbean jurisdictions - especially given the background of ever-increasing competition for foreign direct investment (FDI) and second homeowners.

With the likes of Antigua & Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis and St Lucia all around $200,000-$250,000, the private sector’s fear is that the Bahamas will become uncompetitive and price itself out of this market.

Mr Symonette, though, said the Government had to ensure the permanent residency system was not abused when it came to real estate investments.

He pointed to cases where foreigners bought Bahamian real estate, only to immediate sell or ‘flip’ it for profit, yet clung on to their permanent residency status.

“We have to make sure there are added benefits to permanent residency, and that it’s not being used as an added tool in their tool-kit,” Mr Symonette told Tribune Business.

Comments

BahamasForBahamians 1 year, 10 months ago

How are we sure this same national for sale notion doesnt bite us in the hip with the majority of these foreigners ending up in Nassau competing with Bahamians in business and jobs?

0

OldFort2012 1 year, 10 months ago

Try this: permanent residency DOES NOT CONFER the right to work. A permanent resident DOES NOT have the right to work. Therefore: the government could grant a million permanent residencies and not a single one could compete with your job. Always been the case. Nothing has changed. Where have you been all your life?

1

ohdrap4 1 year, 10 months ago

actually the people who buy homes get a 'ANNUAL RESIDENCY PERMIT'

it is not the same as permanent residency, they have to renew the thing , usually their lawyer deals with that.

0

OldFort2012 1 year, 10 months ago

the only difference between an annual and permanent residency permit is the cost and the qualifying sum. One costs $1k per year, the other $10k once off.

0

becks 1 year, 10 months ago

Isn’t what you guys are calling the “Annual Residency Permit” actually the
“ Annual Homeowners Permit” that basically offers no benefits beyond doing away with the 30-90 day immigration limit and must be renewed every year? Which is a diffrent kind of animal than the various “Permanent” Residency permits.....the Annual Permit doesn’t require the same large investment in a home among other things.

0

sealice 1 year, 10 months ago

you can't compare us to those other caribbean islands that have more foreign as in NON AMERICAN foreign investors that take a day to get to from even MIAMI. Our product "theoretically" is better (until Nassau get's involved) and is worth more then way way down south tiny ass islands that are only microcosms of nasty Nassau.....

0

TalRussell 1 year, 10 months ago

Comrades! A nation for sale { but only open to a certain kinds foreigners } and at a time when we as a country are incapable of settling the matter of the thousands who may rightfully be entitled to citizenship's, and the 145,000 illegals who should have long been deported.... many whom are working for the businesses owned and operated by red party's financial supporters.
Needs repeating that when other countries are tightening their borders and paths to immigration, the Bahamaland under the governing Minnis's, Brent's and KP's, are preparing for but a insulting token cash fee paid into the public treasury to turn the pride of your once so prized citizenship, into a 'commodity with a price tag' - valued at no more than a truckload of 150 lb sacks OK Flour. The prime minister has with the stroke of his pen unconstitutionally changed the law which should be arresting illegals leading up to the PM's December 31, 2017 deadline.

0

birdiestrachan 1 year, 10 months ago

persons can receive their citizen ship on one Island and move where ever they wish in the Bahamas. This is a deal and a win, win for the elite the lawyers the real estate people who are telling mr small things what to do.

They the elite also want a law put in place where Bahamians will be restricted as to how often they may purchase a car. The average Bahamian should pay attention there is nothing to benefit them. in the laws the FNM is putting in place.

0

TalRussell 1 year, 10 months ago

Comrade, I would support a "two car limit per family, with replacement restriction once every 10 years". Tourists and visitors, should be totally restricted from renting cars. Only cars of the most current 5 models years, should be allowed to be imported. No more gas engine cars to be imported.

0

becks 1 year, 10 months ago

Birdie...Permanent Residency is not the same as full Bahamian Citizenship.

Furthermore there are diffrent types of Permanent Residency.......there is Restricted Permanent Residency( not allowed to work at all without a valid work permit) , there is Permanent Residency with the right to work in ones own business( that’s pretty self-explanatory) and there is Open Permanent Residency( allowed to work at any job, very very rarely given) And none of them allow voting in Bahamian elections, none of them allow the holder to serve in the RBDF or RBPF, none of them allow the holder to serve in a jury.

0

Well_mudda_take_sic 1 year, 10 months ago

Symonette is a natural born arse who is obviously content to have our nation prostitute itself for piddly sums. If we sell ourselves cheap then we will naturally get cheap customers lining up at the door in no time to get permanent residency. But these cheap customers will not be in a financial position to do anything of good for our country and its people, in fact they would become a burden for us. The rest of the world will see our nation as a paltry whore willing to give away residency for a measly sum. Permanent residency anywhere in the Bahamas without the right to work should cost at least the equivalent of one million U.S. dollars ( US$1,000,000) and with the right to work should cost at least an additional US$500,000, and these amounts should be at least doubled in the case of a family.

0

OldFort2012 1 year, 10 months ago

You do not seem to understand how the system works. Permanent Residency "costs" $10,000. That is the fee you pay the government to grant your application. The other amounts you licitate are the amounts that someone invests (usually in property). But that remains his property. It is therefore not a cost. Are you suggesting that the application fee should go up from $10,000 to $1,000,000? And if not, why on earth would you care how much someone has paid for his house? Are you going to live in it? What difference is it going to make to YOU? What the government should do is clearly distinguish between property and other investments (businesses, shares, government bonds). That has the potential to benefit the country & society. How much someone pays for his house to another foreigner has a very marginal benefit to anyone here.

0

Well_mudda_take_sic 1 year, 10 months ago

My amounts are what I believe should be the minimum investment requirement; the ongoing annual fees are another thing and the higher the better. We stopped growing real estate millions of years ago and there's not much of it left at affordable prices for future generations of Bahamians.

0

TalRussell 1 year, 10 months ago

Comrades! Why would someone in good and lawful standing holding citizenship in another country want to pay the Bahamaland government $150 thousand to $1 million to obtain Permanent Residency Certificate (PRC)? What rights will your PRC give you the right to do? Can you apply and be granted a Bahamalander Passport? Can you work? Can you buy, or start a business and manage it? Can you enroll children in public schools? Can your spouse/common-law spouse and children work? Would you and family members qualify for national insurance and pension benefits? What, if any, proof minimum annual income must be maintained to provide the government? How long can you or a family member be absent from the country to void yours, or their PRC status? { I am presuming that you would have first hold current citizenship in another country to apply for Bahamalands's PRC? What happens to an applicant holding one or more citizenship's, or even Permanent Residency's? }

0

OldFort2012 1 year, 10 months ago

Answers to your questions, so you can become more enlightened on this topic. Can you apply and be granted a Bahamalander Passport? No. Can you work? No. Can you buy, or start a business and manage it? No. Unless you apply for PR with right to work, which is a separate category. Can you enroll children in public schools? Theoretically, yes. But you would need to certifiably insane or really hate your children to do that. Can your spouse/common-law spouse and children work? No. Would you and family members qualify for national insurance and pension benefits? No. What, if any, proof minimum annual income must be maintained to provide the government? None. How long can you or a family member be absent from the country to void yours, or their PRC status? If you look up the word "permanent" you will find that it means "f'eva". Therefore: As long as you like. What happens to an applicant holding one or more citizenship's, or even Permanent Residency's? Nothing. PR grants you the RIGHT to live here, not the obligation. You can spend as little or as much time here as you like.

0

TalRussell 1 year, 10 months ago

First, if you want this all make sense to you, you gotta catch upon how the red shirts cabinet has become restricted to but three of the crown's main red shirts power players Comrade OldFort2012, best you get a better grip on exactly where Minnis, KP and Brent is going with what variety permanent residency some foreigners buck$ will get them to do legally in the Bahamaland?

0

sheeprunner12 1 year, 10 months ago

What else can the foreigners buy on some of these islands????????? ......... They have already bought up all of the choice land ....... or colluded with unscrupulous lawyers to quiet choice land ........... We need to incentivize for the island descendants to come back home and invest.

0

banker 1 year, 10 months ago

I say open it up completely to anyone who has a profession, a tertiary education and comes from a first world country. Open it up for free. Totally populate the Family Islands from first world country people. That will rejuvenate them.

0

TalRussell 1 year, 10 months ago

Comrade Banker's opinion for reconstruction of days passed granting of residency and citizenship's, is that we should only welcome those immigrants being of superior intelligence because that's the way a good colony of the empire should behave. It wasn't that long time ago in our country's history - when only white Europeans were permitted to jump the immigration cue.

0

banker 1 year, 10 months ago

Yep. The Bahamians who support PLP are of definitely inferior intelligence and the country needs a cull of them. Ship them to Inagua to work in the salt flats and keep their poisonous personalities where they can't be seem and won't infect the rest of the population. The average IQ of PLP Bahamians is about around their shoe size.

0

birdiestrachan 1 year, 10 months ago

Banker where do the Bahamian children yet unborn fit into your idea . Those who own the land controls the land. Bahamian will be forced to buy land from foreigners who paid very little for it at a very high price

It is not a good idea to sell ones birthright for porridge.

0

birdiestrachan 1 year, 10 months ago

Mr. small things does not care he has the reputation for quieting poor people property,

0

The_Oracle 1 year, 10 months ago

Better be thinking about the Non-discriminatory clauses in WTO, EU-EPA and the CARIB-CAN trade agreements. Along with the Discriminatory real property tax exemptions for Bahamians( un-developed and out islands) Along with exorbitant Work permit fees for nationals from signatory countries. And, wait for it......discrimination against Bahamians borrowing and investing elsewhere.

0

baldbeardedbahamian 1 year, 10 months ago

OldFort2012, good comments but you are wasting your time trying to educate the ignorant and xenophobic posters, they are not capable of recognizing a truthful statement having been raised on Oscar pindling's alternate truth.

0

banker 1 year, 10 months ago

The PLP is a cult. They trade their brains for coconut bread and will say anything whether it is truthful or not. They have had the 666 anti-truth chip installed in their brains.

0

Sign in to comment