Monday, November 3, 2008

Alien moves afoot

The 3-month wait for an Alien License may soon be a thing of the past. Talks between the Government of St Lucia and the Allied Realtor's Association are focused on finding a faster and more progressive way forward for the processing of 'Alien Landholding Licence' applications.

At the moment, non-nationals (both individuals and entities) wishing to purchase, lease or otherwise hold property in St Lucia are required by law to first obtain an Alien Landholding Licence (ALL). This licence is specific to a given property and is non-transferable. It permits foreign nationals to register property in their name once they have gone through a screening process that ensures, amongst other things, that they are free of a criminal record and have adequate means of support.

Although time-consuming, the process is actually pretty straightforward as the purchaser's lawyer takes care of all formalities as part of the conveyancing process - the purchaser simply has to provide the following information and documents:

  • Certified copy of passport
  • Fingerprints of the applicant
  • Four (4) passport-sized colour photos of the applicant
  • Profession or employment status
  • Bankers’ reference
  • Police Certificate of good Character from country of origin or current residence.
Additionally there is a non-refundable application fee of EC$1,500 (US$560) and once approved, the fee for the actual licence is EC$5,000 (US$1,870). The good news is that this is a one-time licence fee, but the bad news is that currently, the processing time for the application can be in excess of 3 months. Our record for the turn-around time on obtaining an ALL is 6 weeks, but this is the exception rather than the rule. So the recent talks have centered on how the process can be fast-tracked whilst still making sure that applicants still satisfy all the requirements.

There was a general acceptance that obtaining fingerprints from police departments in some countries can be a challenge in this day and age, and that perhaps this requirement was somewhat '20th-century' in approach. Obtaining a Police certificate showing one's (lack of) criminal record can also take several weeks in some countries, often requiring the applicant to appear in person. Added to these hurdles are the potential delays in processing time once the application enters the bureaucratic mill and makes its way through the various local government departments.

The consensus is that perhaps fingerprinting can be done away with, and that applicants can simply sign a statutory declaration to the effect that they do not have a criminal record. At this point the applicant can be granted a licence allowing them to proceed with the purchase and registering of the property... saving everyone a lot of time and frustration.

With this scenario, the onus will be on the purchaser not to make any false declarations, since all background checks will still be carried out, but just not in advance of the sale. Should any criminal records etc. surface after the sale has gone through, an applicant stands to forfeit their property. Draft legislation to this effect will be reviewed by the Realtor's Association within the next few weeks and barring any unforeseen complications, hopefully, these changes will be in place by February 2009.

Oh ... and it has also been suggested that the word 'Alien' be abandoned in favour of the less exotic term 'Foreign National'.