As countries in the Middle East and Europe struggle with a surge in refugees and the United States debates immigration reform, the oil-rich kingdom of Kuwait is pursuing an unusual solution to a similar problem. It announced last month that it would offer citizenship to tens of thousands of stateless people from nomadic Bidoon tribes -- but not Kuwaiti citizenship.
Instead, Kuwait is planning to pay the impoverished African island nation of Comoros -- hundreds of miles away -- to grant Kuwait's stateless Arabs citizenship. Under the arrangement, the new citizens of Comoros would be allowed to stay in Kuwait, where they would benefit from free education, health care and employment opportunities, according to Al Jazeera.
The deal is possible because of Comoros's Economic Citizenship Act, passed in 2008, which allowed the country to sell its nationality to foreigners. Comoros has not commented on the Kuwaiti plan, nor has it publicly declared the price of nationality per individual.
But the incentive for the island nation is fairly clear: According to NGO Freedom House, Comoros might already have generated $200 million for selling its nationality to citizens of Gulf countries -- money the country's former president, Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, was alleged to have misused. The details of the case are sketchy, but they pointed to the existence of a larger program to sell passports to various other countries or individuals.
For Kuwait's interior ministry, the Comoros plan could be the solution to a longtime struggle between the Bidoon and the government. For decades, about 100,000 Bidoon tribe members have claimed to be Kuwaiti citizens; the Kuwaiti government considers them illegal immigrants.
But human rights groups say it's a terrible idea: As citizens of a foreign country, they note, the Bidoon Arabs would have fewer rights than if they remained stateless. The 1954 U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons is supposed to prevent the exclusion and marginalization of stateless people, and it demands states issue identity and travel documents to them. Kuwait would prefer to avoid such requirements.
In any case, if the Kuwaiti plan goes through, Comoros would hardly be the first country that has essentially sold citizenship or residency as a means to pad state coffers.
Many countries dangle residency to attract foreign investors, though they require large amounts of money and the permits are difficult to obtain. Among the countries that have established such programs are Australia, Belgium, Spain, Singapore, Britain, Portugal as well as the United States.
The following countries have made the process particularly easy, and some even offer full citizenship -- not to mention warm waters and white beaches.
In 2012, lawmakers adopted an amendment to the immigration law that allowed foreigners to gain Hungarian investment citizenship (comparable to a permanent residency) if they were willing to buy at least $322,600 worth of special government bonds, according to Reuters. Unlike other European countries, Hungary does not require investors to purchase real estate or be physically present in Hungary for a certain amount of time.
For rich investors, this might be a lucrative deal: Hungary is part of the European Union, and every citizen is allowed to travel to other member states. The profits could also help lower the country's foreign currency debt, which is worth billions of dollars.
This Mediterranean island nation, south of Sicily, is also trying to use its EU membership to attract rich investors, who must pay $1.57 million for one citizenship. In 2013, Malta originally announced it would sell citizenship for $865,000, but it raised the price after opposition protests. The outrage also led to other requirements and limitations: Future Malta citizens now need to reside on the island, and the program is capped at 1,800 passports.
Buying citizenship in Cyprus is more expensive -- $6.2 million for individuals and $2.48 million for those investing as part of a larger group, although the price was originally even higher and amounted to $34 million. Due to limited interest, the required investment was lowered.
The program primarily targets Russian investors who were particularly struck by a 2013 E.U. bank bailout for Cyprus, in which many foreigners lost large amounts of their investments. Shortly afterward, the country lowered citizenship investment requirements for those who had lost their cash.
The official government Web site of Dominica offers a guide for those interested in investing in the country and receiving citizenship in return. Individual applicants have to pay $100,000; applicants with a spouse are expected to pay $175,000. Everyone "must be of outstanding character," according to the Web site. But they needn't actually live in the country.
Dominica also does not hide the real intentions of its program, which it wonkily describes as one component of its national capital mobilization portfolio towards its ultimate goal of national development." In 2013, Dominica had more than $500 million in external debt.
St. Kitts and Nevis
The citizenship application for St. Kitts and Nevis, a two-island country in the Caribbean, consists only of three pages. The blank space applicants are asked to fill outlining their "reasons for desiring citizenship" is only half the size of the "proposed source of income" and "approximate annual income."
Prospective citizens can either invest a minimum of $400,000 in real estate or make a $250,000 donation to the country's Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation.
Antigua and Barbuda
A similar program exists in Antigua and Barbuda, located east of St. Kitts and Nevis. Future citizens can choose between a $400,000 real estate investment and a $200,000 charity donation. Opponents have said it might be exploited by terrorists or criminals, the BBC reported. But former prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda Baldwin Spencer knocked that down in a recent speech, saying that the Antigua and Barbuda Citizenship by Investment Program was "not an open-sesame for all and sundry."
This Caribbean country requires potential citizens to invest a minimum of $311,750 into shares of a variety of companies operating in Grenada. The required investment includes legal, government as well as passport fees. Unlike some other nations that put a strong emphasis on financial resources in their application material, Grenada encourages investors to explore the beauty of Grenada. On the investment program's Web site, the government praises its own country: "And oh….! the charm and friendliness of these wonderful people just makes the difference!"