In an October 4 press release, the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu announced that it would immediately begin accepting bitcoin as payment for its citizenship-by-investment program.
The country, which recently made the news when a volcanic eruption forced the evacuation of several thousand residents, offers the service under its Development Support Program. The Vanuatu Information Center (VIC), a privately held company, is authorized by the government to process applications.
Through the program, approved applicants who pay the $280,000 fee receive citizenship as well as Vanuatu passports for themselves and up to three members of their immediate family.
In a letter to VIC chairman Geoffrey Bond, Member of Parliament Hon. Andrew Solomon Napuat confirmed that the Vanuatu government supports the move to receive payments in bitcoin. VIC managing director James Harris touted the move as “a significant step forward in our efforts” to make Vanuatu a citizenship-by-investment leader and predicted that the program’s acceptance of a blockchain-based currency would bolster its anti-money laundering efforts. Bond explained that “all Bitcoin transactions will be run through our partner’s Australian Exchange and meet with the normal compliance requirements imposed by the Australian Financial Regulator.”
The official press release also mentions a forthcoming partnership with blockchain company Selfkey, which will provide the government with identity verification services as well as platforms through which aspiring ni-Vanuatu can apply and pay for citizenship.
A website hosted by a consultancy firm called Pacific Stars Consultant Vanuatu Limited notes that the program’s applicants will undergo screening by Vanuatu’s Financial Intelligence Unit and that those with criminal backgrounds will not be considered for citizenship. The program, it explains, was established to help rebuild the country’s economy in the wake of widespread devastation wrought by Cyclone Pam, which struck the nation in 2015.
Vanuatu is not the only country to offer a citizenship-by-investment service. Its competitors in this field include Turkey, Malta, Cyprus, Dominica, St. Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Grenada.
In a January 2017 report, CBS’s Steve Kroft referred to such schemes as “a legal way to circumvent visa controls” and “an opportunity for shady characters to mask their true identity [sic] and avoid suspicion as they travel around the globe.” The industry, he said, is worth $2 billion annually.