United Kingdom: Cash for visa schemes could be scrapped in new crackdown

Source: telegraph.co.uk

Published: 17 February 2023

Tom Tugendhat orders review of investment visas that can give criminals and corrupt oligarchs a backdoor route into Britain

Cash for visa schemes that provide crime bosses and corrupt oligarchs with a backdoor route into Britain face being shut down in a crackdown by security minister Tom Tugendhat.

He has ordered a review of golden visa schemes where wealthy individuals can buy citizenship in dozens of countries in the Caribbean, Pacific and central America by investing as little as £60,000, The Telegraph can reveal.

Suspected criminals or sanction-busting Russians can then exploit the countries’ visa-waiver agreements with the UK which allow entry to Britain for up to six months ostensibly for tourism, business, study or medical treatment.

The review follows an investigation into the UK’s golden visa schemes that found a “small minority” of wealthy foreign investors had been identified as high risk due to alleged links to corruption or serious organised crime.

The tier 1 investor visa, which has since been closed, gave fast-track settlement to rich foreigners who were willing to bring millions of pounds to Britain.

Speaking at a Global Financial Integrity Conference in the US, Mr Tugendhat said Britain was not prepared to tolerate visa waiver agreements with “backdoor” economies.

“Citizenship by investment became popular over the last 20 or 30 years, and many different jurisdictions have introduced them in various different ways,” Mr Tugendhat said.

“We found that it was so open to abuse that we had to stop it. So we’ve closed down tier one visas. And we’re going through the process of making sure that none of those loopholes are left within our existing visa routine.

“Sadly, that means that we’ve got to look at some other jurisdictions because there are some places that have visa waivers with the UK who are effectively offering this loophole. We simply cannot have visa waivers with backdoor economies, it just doesn’t work.

“Whenever I fly, you’ll see in in-flight magazines, various different legal entities offering various different citizenship by investment offers. The island of Dominica was one of the ones that appeared in the in-flight magazine and all I can say is that the visa regime is being looked at.”

Dominica’s “citizenship by investment” scheme boasts that payment of $100,000 (£83,000) into a state fund, or $200,000 for a real estate purchase provides a person with a Dominica passport. This unlocks visa-free travel to 111 countries including the UK and travel to a further 31 countries which grant a visa upon arrival.

Dominica remains the fastest route to gaining Caribbean citizenship at just 76 days while citizenship in Antigua and Barbuda can be bought for $100,000 investment in 107 days, in St Lucia also for $100,000 in 137 days and in St Kitts and Nevis for $125,000 also in 137 days.

Paraguay, a one-time bolthole for Nazis fleeing Europe after the second world war, has one of the lowest investment demands for golden visas at $70,000. Applications can be approved within 45 days although citizenship requires three years permanent residency.

The number of countries promoting such schemes has exploded and extended to the Pacific where citizenship of the island of Vanuatu requires $130,000 investment for a single applicant or $150,000 for a family.

La Vida, a company specialising in facilitating golden visas, boasts that Vanuatu “being a Commonwealth nation country, its passport is valuable offering visa free access to over 129 countries including the UK and the 26 European countries of the EU Schengen zone.”

It is understood measures that could be taken range from ending visa waivers to diplomatic pressure to tighten checks on potential investors.

Evidence of the demand for citizenship was seen earlier this month when Argentina revealed more than 5,000 pregnant Russian women had entered the country in recent months in an attempt to secure Argentinian citizenship for their babies. It included 33 pregnant Russians on one flight.

Florencia Carignano, head of Argentina’s migration agency, said: “The problem is that they come to Argentina, sign up their children as Argentinean and leave. Our passport is very secure across the world. It allows [passport-holders] to enter 171 countries visa-free.”

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