- Insider investigated how wealthy Russians could move to the United States by investing in Grenada’s economy.
- A visa company is offering the shortcut after Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization.
- It’s legal, but an illicit finance expert said he could let the oligarchs ‘bend 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 Telegram message on Sept. 25. “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: an American visa.
In a Telegram channel with more than 300,000 subscribers dedicated to helping Russians find ways out of their country, United Passport appeared to take advantage of the geopolitical situation.
After Putin’s address to the nation about his partial military mobilization, thousands of Russians booked flights to countries offering visa-free entry, such as Turkey, Armenia, Georgia and Serbia.
But the founding attorney of Batrakova’s law firm, Irina Batrakova, told Insider that her Oregon firm has mostly handled inquiries from Russians seeking to settle in the United States.
On the Telegram channel, United Passport announced the possibility of traveling to the United States with an E-2 visa. Russians can only apply for an E-2 visa by first obtaining citizenship of a treaty country, a category that includes Grenada but excludes Russia.
The InterContinental Grenada Resort Option
Insider contacted United Passport and posed as a client who wanted to enter the United States with his family through Grenada, insisting that Grenada was just a stepping stone to a new life in America.
Grenada blocked Russians from applying for citizenship through investment after their country invaded Ukraine in February. The restriction was lifted in July and replaced with “enhanced vetting” of Russian applicants, Karline Purcell, 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 told Insider on Wednesday that a business opportunity would allow us to obtain a Grenadian passport and, in turn, a US visa.
“There are only 300 shares left at the InterContinental hotel,” the company said.
He was referring to partial ownership of the new InterContinental Grenada Resort, an IHG Hotels & Resorts development. Participation would cost $316,000. This would lead to Grenada “giving you and your family passports for this,” the visa company said, which would entitle you to apply for an E-2, a nonimmigrant visa that lasts usually five years but can be renewed an unlimited number of times.
A spokesperson for IHG Hotels & Resorts said the company “adheres to the highest ethical standards and has the same requirements for parties it engages with.”
Grenada is the smallest state in the Caribbean, with a population of approximately 112,000, a population smaller than any of the 270 largest cities in the United States. It was a French and British colony before gaining independence from the United Kingdom in February 1974.
Grenada has proven to be a hotspot for those wishing to relax in its lavish resorts and on the many superyachts cruising around its islands.
Russians wealthy enough to attempt to escape conscription into their military and enter the United States have several options. Some are long processes; Grenada’s strategy is the shortcut.
Using Grenadian Citizenship as a Shortcut
Obtaining an E-2 visa through Grenadian citizenship is cheaper, faster, and easier than the alternatives — many of which require a long-standing connection to the United States.
The EB-5, an immigrant-investor, or “golden” visa, has been one of the most popular routes to the United States. More recently, the situation was complicated when the US Embassy in Moscow suspended non-diplomatic visa services.
“The difficult part would be being able to go to the appropriate consulate in order to have a proper visa interview,” Fadi Minawi, senior immigration attorney and managing director of VisaPlace, told Insider.
The US State Department has designated the US Embassy in Warsaw, Poland as the venue for Russian visas, but Poland closed its borders to Russians in mid-September. According to the embassy’s website, Russian nationals traveling for a visa appointment need a Schengen visa to enter Poland, but the Polish government reserves the right to refuse them entry.
Even before the war in Ukraine, the EB-5 route was by no means a fast way to immigrate to the United States and usually takes at least two years to process.
“It can take years for that request to actually go 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 take as little as four months and is around 80% cheaper.
Once a Grenadian passport is obtained, there is technically no minimum investment for an E-2 application. Immigration lawyers told Insider that an investment in the United States of at least $50,000 would be required for an application to be considered seriously. So the total cost realistically starts at $200,000 for Russians when the $150,000 United Passport fee is factored in.
The expensive EB-5, however, requires a minimum capital investment of $1.05 million, or a reduced investment of $800,000 in a targeted employment area.
The E-2 road, using Grenada as a springboard, is a “sort of workaround” for wealthy Russians looking to save both money and time traveling to the United States to avoid to be 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 are not always viable for those who have no connection to the United States and are looking for a quick fix. And Minawi said either option was only available to those with significant wealth.
‘Facing the Rules’
Gary Kalman, executive director of Transparency International, an organization focused on illicit finance, told Insider being able to buy into the US was a “huge” problem.
The problem is not that unsanctioned Russians seeking to escape the draft can enter the United States; it’s that very wealthy Russians are playing games with the immigration system, Kalman said.
“We shouldn’t say, ‘Of course, the moral imperative is that we want to help these people flee Russia, but we will only do that if you can invest,'” he said. “It’s not a humanitarian policy. It’s a policy that invites in some of Russia’s wealthiest, many of whom may have gotten their money through ill-gotten gains.”
Kalman said he was concerned about the speed of the E-2 visa process, which seems to leave little time to verify an applicant’s source of income, and that he was concerned that having an intermediary – Grenada – in the process only complicates the due diligence needed to determine whether the money is dirty or clean.
He added that Russians with the level of wealth to participate in such a strategy were likely to include oligarchs who had acquired money through “romantic deals”. It is “very problematic” to have an immigration system that allows the wealthy to “bend the rules”, he said.
It is unclear how many people have applied for E-2 visas since the announcement of the partial mobilization, as the US State Department has not provided updated numbers since August.
But immigration lawyers told Insider demand is skyrocketing. “There have been more calls from Russian nationals,” Minawi said.
Batrakova added: “I would say at least a 30% to 40% increase in inquiries, but I’m just being very cautious here. We’ve had phone calls and everyone is trying to strategize how to get out.”
The government of Grenada did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.