In a Pandemic World, Vanuatu Has Placed Itself Under a Microscope


Reasonable Doubt
With David Lesperance

A contrarian expert on contingency plans for the wealthy delivers uncomfortable truths.


My original article of Feb. 25, 2020, which questioned the viability of Vanuatu’s Honorary Citizenship program, has generated some controversy. Most notable was a response from James E. Harris of the Vanuatu Investment Migration Bureau. He published a follow-up article on March 2, 2020.

These two articles, in turn, inspired one of the program’s Marketing Agents to reach out by email to IMI with the following statements:

“The current Development Support Program (DSP) was created under the Citizenship Act [CAP 112 S 20] to replace the Vanuatu Economic Rehabilitation Program (VERP) that offered Honorary Citizenship to help investment in the country in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam. The current Vanuatu Prime Minister, Charlot Salwai Salwai, made the regulation under Order No. 215 of 2016. The order provided for the establishment of the DSP including designated agents for the program, procedures for applications for citizenship under the program and prescribed fees etc. 

Privileges for the “Honorary Citizenship Act [CAP 112]” were set out in another regulation made by the President of Vanuatu, Father Baldwin Lonsdale under Order No. 216 of 2016.

However, last year in 2019, as the Parliamentary note indicates and Regulations Orders 33 and 34 2019 show, the Honorary citizenship ceased and new rules were set regarding DSP. This included amongst other matters such as Citizenship certificates, how to treat those who were previously granted citizenship under VERP and DSP Honorary citizenship recipients. There is no doubt, Honorary citizenship has ceased and no longer applies under DSP. This is evident too with the change in signatories for the Citizenship certificates- see attached. (2018 honorary citizenship certificate and 2019 citizenship certificate)

The Vanuatu passport makes no distinction about Honorary and Ordinary citizenship. Vanuatu already used its prerogative as a sovereign nation that he refers to at the start of his article and resolved the matter as they saw fit by removing the honorary distinction.”

IMI forwarded the Agent’s email to me and I reviewed all the documents and legislation attached. I then sent the following response to its author:

“I first want to thank you for producing the PM’s letter, which I had not previously seen on the internet, nor had it been presented to me. In light of this letter and your email, you appear to be an expert on the topic. Therefore, if you don’t mind, I have a few more questions:

1) In the Prime Minister’s letter, he makes the statement that,

The DSP program that is currently being operated as an honorary citizenship program, will cease to operate once the provisions in this Act commence.

Can you please supply a little more explanation as to how this legislatively was accomplished by the passing of attached bills? Is there additional legislation?

2) Can you please advise as to the status of those who received Honorary Citizenship between 2015 and the ending of the Honorary Citizenship program?

3) It would also be helpful for everyone if we could receive copies of the:

Order No. 215 of 2016. The order provided for the establishment of the DSP including designated agents for the program, procedures for applications for citizenship under the program and prescribed fees etc. Privileges for Honorary Citizenship Act [CAP 112] were set out in another regulation made by the President of Vanuatu, Father Baldwin Lonsdale under Order No. 216 of 2016.

James Harris has provided the following to me [Order-No.-215-of-2016 and Order-No.-216-of-2016] Can you please confirm that these are the appropriate and complete documents you are referring to?

4) You state:

“[…]new rules were set regarding DSP. This included amongst other matters such as Citizenship certificates, how to treat those who were previously granted citizenship under VERP and DSP Honorary citizenship recipients.” 

If you are saying that these regulations dealt with my second question, can you please specify which sections you are using for the basis of this statement? If there is additional legislation/rules can you please provide a copy of same?

If you read all the attached legislation, you will see that I was basically asking this Marketing Agent to “show their work”. This was because my review of the actual legislation found no legislative basis for this person’s assertions. Despite several follow-ups this person declined in any way to address these questions. As a result, I see no reason to question my original conclusions and assertions.

In short:

  • The Prime Minister made an aspirational assertion to replace Honorary Citizenship with regular citizenship in his letter but did not back this up with actual legislation to implement such a change;
  • There has been no legislative attempt at all to deal with those who are still purchasing Honorary Citizenship;
  • Bureaucrats simply removing the term Honorary from citizenship certificates without any legislative authority to do so does not magically turn the recipient into a full Vanuatu citizen. This is also true if the individual is issued a Vanuatu passport which is legislatively only to be issued to full Vanuatu citizens.

The reason that the status of those who purchased Honorary Citizenship from Vanuatu is important became even more obvious when the coronavirus hit. Suddenly the identity and status of visitors literally became a matter of “life or death” for countries such as New Zealand and Australia and special regions such as HK and Schengen.

As a result, journalists from these jurisdictions suddenly became interested in this issue. Unfortunately, as I predicted in my original article, I don’t think that this keen interest will bode well for either Honorary Citizenship purchasers or for native Ni-Vanuatu.

More on this topic:

Want to know more about the Vanuatu CIP? To see recent statistics, official links, FAQs, and more, please visit its Program Page. To see which firms can assist with applications to the program, please visit the Residence & Citizenship by Investment Company Directory.

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David Lesperance AuthorSubscriber

David Lesperance is a global leader of international tax and immigration advisors.

A published author in the field, his personal interest in these areas of law grew from his experience working as Canadian immigration and customs officer while studying law. Since being called to the bar in 1990, he has established his expertise with major law firms, his own law firm and as a private consultant. David has successfully advised scores of high and ultra high net-worth individuals and their families, many of whom continue to seek his counsel today. In addition he has provided pro bono advice to many governments on how to improve their Citizenship by Investment, Residence by Investment or Golden Visa type programs to better meet the needs of his global clients. David is supported by a team of professionals, some of whom have worked with him since the early 1990s.

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