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Home Office delays plan to suspend ‘golden visas’ for super-rich foreign nationals

Just days after department announces 'sweeping reforms', they have been put on hold

Ben Chapman
Tuesday 11 December 2018 14:25 GMT
In June, Russian oligarch and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich 'withdrew' his tier 1 visa application after coming under increased Home Office scrutiny
In June, Russian oligarch and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich 'withdrew' his tier 1 visa application after coming under increased Home Office scrutiny (Getty)

The government has not suspended its controversial “golden visa” programme for wealthy foreign investors, despite a Home Office announcement last week stating that it had.

“The tier 1 investor visa is not currently suspended, however we remain committed to reforming the route,” a spokesperson for the department said on Tuesday.

“A further announcement will be made in due course.”

The embarrassing climbdown for the Home Office comes just days after it said “sweeping reforms” would be conducted as part of efforts to prevent the visas being used for money laundering.

Immigration rule changes issued on Tuesday include no reference to Tier 1 Investor visas, with the next update due in March.

Tier 1 investor visas grant access to super-rich foreign nationals if they invest £2m or more in UK government bonds or a UK company. For £5m they can apply to stay after three years; for £10m it can be done in two.

They have been heavily criticised by anti-corruption groups and others for facilitating the flow of dirty money into the UK and allowing rich people to buy residency. Before 2015, no checks were carried out on the sources of golden visa applicants' wealth.

Over 1,000 tier 1 investor visas were issued in the year to September 2018, mostly to Chinese and Russian citizens.

The Home Office finally started to review the holders of so-called golden visas after Russian double agent Sergei Skripal was poisoned in March, heightening tensions between Westminster and the Kremlin.

“This is no way to run an immigration policy, effectively trying to legislate by press release,” said Philip Barth, partner and head of immigration at Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth.

“There were eyebrows raised when the change of policy was hastily announced through a press release with no prior consultation with immigration law practitioners and no formal Home Office notice, and to have backtracked so quickly shows that much more care needs to be taken with this kind of policy.

In June, Russian oligarch and Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich “withdrew” his tier 1 visa application after coming under increased scrutiny.

Mr Abramovich, who made his estimated £9.3bn fortune from oil and gas in the 1990s, is known to be close to Vladimir Putin.

More than 700 of the 3,000 visas examined by the Home Office so far are understood to have been issued to Russian investors.

The Home Office said the probe covered “all nationalities in the cohort” and its findings will be announced in due course.

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The visa scheme requires that applicants had a UK bank account and were of “good character”.

Under the proposed new rules applicants will be made to provide comprehensive audits of all their financial and business interests carried out by regulated UK firms who have no involvement with any qualifying investments or the visa application.

Applicants will also be required to prove that they have had control of the required £2m for at least two years and it must then be invested in active and trading UK companies, rather than government bonds.

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