- Insider explored how wealthy Russians could move to the US by investing in Grenada’s economy.
- A visa firm is offering the shortcut after Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization.
- It’s legal, but an expert on illicit finance said it could allow oligarchs “to circumvent the rules.”
Five days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization, a Russian visa company rushed to offer citizens a way out.
“Grenada is called ‘little Switzerland’,” United Passport wrote in a Sept. 25 Telegram message. “It’s an affordable program for the whole family.”
For as little as $150,000, Russians can become citizens of Grenada, the visa company said.
But an American flag in the background of the ad hints at the real prize: a US visa.
In a Telegram channel with more than 300,000 subscribers designed to help Russians find ways out of their country, United Passport appeared to be taking advantage of the geopolitical situation.
After Putin’s address to the nation about his partially military mobilization, thousands of Russians booked flights to countries that offer visa-free travel, such as Turkey, Armenia, Georgia and Serbia.
But the Batrakova law firm’s founding attorney, Irina Batrakova, told Insider that her Oregon firm primarily handled requests from Russians wanting to move to the United States.
In the Telegram channel, United Passport advertised the possibility of traveling to the United States on an E-2 visa. Russians can only apply for an E-2 visa by first acquiring citizenship in a treaty country, a category that includes Grenada but excludes Russia.
Option InterContinental Grenada Resort
Insiders contacted United Passport, posing as a customer wishing to enter the United States with their family via Grenada, insisting that Grenada was just a stepping stone to a new life in America.
Grenada blocked Russians from applying for citizenship through an investment after their country invaded Ukraine in February. The restriction was lifted in July and replaced with “enhanced scrutiny” of Russian applicants, Karline Purcell, the CEO of Grenada’s Citizenship By Investment Program, told Investment Migration Insider, adding that only unsanctioned Russians could apply.
In multiple exchanges on WhatsApp, United Passport Insider shared on Wednesday that a business opportunity would get us a Grenadian passport and therefore a US visa.
“There are only 300 shares of InterContinental Hotel left,” the company said.
It related to fractional ownership of the new InterContinental Grenada Resort, a development by IHG Hotels & Resorts. The operation would cost $316,000. It would result in Grenada “giving you and your family passports for it,” the visa company said, which would qualify you to apply for an E-2, a nonimmigrant visa typically valid for five years but renewable indefinitely can times.
A spokesman for IHG Hotels & Resorts said the company “holds to the highest ethical standards and has the same requirements for the parties it works with”.
Grenada is the smallest Caribbean state with a population of about 112,000 – a smaller population than that of any of the 270 largest US cities. It was a French and British colony before gaining independence from Britain in February 1974.
Grenada has proven to be a hot spot for those looking to unwind in its opulent resorts and on the many superyachts that sail around its islands.
Russians rich enough to escape conscription and enter the United States have a variety of options. Some are lengthy processes; the Grenada strategy is the shortcut.
Using Grenadian citizenship as a shortcut
Obtaining an E-2 visa via Grenadian citizenship is cheaper, faster, and easier than the alternatives — many of which require a long-standing connection to the US.
The EB-5, an immigrant investor or “gold” visa, is one of the most popular routes to the United States. More recently, complicating matters, the US Embassy in Moscow suspended visa services for non-diplomatic individuals.
“The challenging part would be to be able to get to the appropriate consulate to actually do an interview for the visa,” Fadi Minawi, the senior immigration attorney and executive director of VisaPlace, told Insider.
The US State Department has designated the US Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, as the location for Russian visa appointments, but Poland closed its borders to Russians in mid-September. According to the embassy’s website, Russian nationals traveling on a visa appointment need a Schengen visa to enter Poland, but the Polish government reserves the right to refuse them entry.
Far from being a quick way to immigrate to the US, even before the war in Ukraine, the EB-5 route typically takes at least two years.
“It may be years before this application actually goes through the process,” Minawi said.
According to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, 20% of cases are still unresolved after 52 months.
But the Grenada shortcut can only last four months and is about 80% cheaper.
Once a Grenadian passport has been obtained, there is technically no minimum investment for an E-2 application. Immigration attorneys told Insiders that an investment in the US of at least $50,000 is required for an application to be seriously considered. So the total cost realistically starts at $200,000 for Russians when the $150,000 United Passport fee is factored in.
However, the costly EB-5 requires a minimum capital investment of $1.05 million or a reduced investment of $800,000 in a specific area of employment.
The E-2 route, which uses Grenada as a stepping stone, is a “sort of bypass” for wealthy Russians looking to save both money and time getting to the U.S. to avoid being drafted, Minawi said.
Employees of international companies or those with family members in the United States may apply for other visas, including the L-1 visa. But these aren’t always practical for those who don’t have US connections and are looking for a quick fix. And Minawi said both options are only available to those with significant wealth.
“Bypassing the Rules”
Gary Kalman, executive director of Transparency International, an organization that focuses on illicit finance, told Insider that being able to buy your way into the US is a “huge” problem.
The problem isn’t that unsanctioned Russians trying to escape conscription can get into the US; The thing is, very rich Russians play the immigration system, Kalman said.
“We shouldn’t say, ‘Sure, the moral imperative is that we want to help these people flee Russia, but we will only do it if you can invest,'” he said. “This is not a humanitarian policy. This is a policy that is inviting some of the wealthiest in Russia, many of whom may have gotten their money from ill-gotten gains.”
Kalman said he has concerns about the speed of the E-2 visa process, which appears to allow little time to verify an applicant’s source of income, and that he fears the presence of an intermediary — Grenada — in the process will complicate the required due diligence could to determine whether the money is dirty or clean.
He added that Russians with the level of wealth required for such a strategy would likely include oligarchs who had acquired money through “sweetheart deals.” It is “highly problematic” to have an immigration system that allows wealthy people “to circumvent the rules,” he said.
It’s unclear how many people have applied for E-2 visas since partial mobilization was announced, as the US State Department hasn’t provided updated figures since August.
But immigration lawyers told insiders that demand has exploded. “There have been more calls from Russian nationals,” Minawi said.
Batrakova added: “I would say requests are up at least 30% to 40%, but I’m just being very conservative here. We’ve had a few calls and everyone is trying to strategize how to get out.”
The Grenada government did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.