The Caribbean Passport Problem

It’s a problem almost unique to the Caribbean. The best and brightest of the region head abroad to study — maybe to Canada, maybe to the United Kingdom, maybe the United States.

They end up living there — a decade, two decades, maybe more. And during that time, they acquire citizenship in their adopted countries. The problem of course, is when they seek to bring their hard-earned knowledge and experience back to their home countries in the Caribbean and serve in Parliament.

For these politicians, these passports would also become something of a luxury. Often, wealthy businessmen and politicians in the region have sought to hold on to their passports as a kind of insurance policy in times of political turmoil.

But constitutionally speaking, two passports are often one too many. And it’s hard to argue against the proposition that nations have an interest in assuring the loyalty of their lawmakers.

The Caribbean passport problem reentered the news this summer when Tara Rivers, Education Minister in the Cayman Islands, had her eligibility challenged due to the fact that she held an American passport, on the grounds that the holder of a US passport should not be able to hold high executive office in the Cayman Islands. (Full disclosure: I testified as an expert witness in the case).

Rivers was ultimately cleared by a Caymanian court to be the Minister of Education,

Throughout the Caribbean, wealthy businessmen and politicians have also used a United States or other passport as a convenience or an insurance policy to give themselves options in times of political turmoil.

The United State Department of State is responsible for determining the citizenship status of a person located outside the United States. Section 349 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8Usc1481) as amended, states that US citizens are subject to loss of citizenship if they perform certain voluntary specific acts. These acts include obtaining naturalization in a foreign state upon one’s own application after the age of 18, taking an oath affirmation or other formal declaration of allegiance to a foreign state, or its political subdivisions after the age of 18; accepting employment with a foreign government after the age of 18.

In Jamaica, the question of dual nationality has been a difficult one, and has led to expensive litigation. The rule now is that joint US-Jamaican nationals — holders of two passports —may not run for office in the Jamaican Parliament. See Dabdoub v Vaz.

The rule in Dabdoub v Vaz has led to considerable controversy particularly among political hopefuls in the Jamaican diaspora, and the question of dual citizenship — and its relationship to the famous “brain drain” of Caribbean talent in the region, will continue.

Even in Haiti, dual citizenship has remained a common controversy — and the charge of being a secret dual citizen is one frequently leveled in the Haitian Parliament.

Dual citizenship rose to the forefront in 2010, when Wyclef Jean, a Grammy-award winning musician who grew up in Brooklyn wished to run for President of Haiti. But he encountered legal issues establishing that Haiti was his habitual residence as required by Article 135 of the Haitian Constitution. Michael Martelly the current President of Haiti had to prove he had surrendered his US green card before he was elected. Another

Was the Rivers case rightly decided? And what will it mean for the future of dual citizenship in the region?

The above appeared in the op-ed section of Caribbean Journal. David P Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and an adjunct law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.


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