World’s Wealthy Face UK Golden Visa Crackdown

Wealthy investors from countries such as Russia who want to settle in Britain face stricter rules on so-called golden visas under a new regime to be announced on Thursday, a crackdown spurred by the Skripal nerve agent attack.

However, transparency campaigners have attacked the shake-up to the visa scheme, which has seen rich overseas investors such as billionaire Roman Abramovich set up home in the UK, as not going far enough.

In an attempted crackdown on money laundering, new Home Office rules that take effect in April will require visa applicants to prove they have had control of more than £2m for at least two years, rather than 90 days. The investments will also need to be made in UK businesses, while investing in gilts will be excluded, in an attempt to increase the benefit to the British economy.

The tier-one “investor visa” route has in the past attracted many wealthy Chinese and Russian investors who have resettled in the UK. But the scheme has been under review since the UK’s relations with Russia deteriorated after the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury last year.

Britain failed to renew the visa of Mr Abramovich, owner of Chelsea football club, after the Skripal attack, in the highest-profile case of the UK spurning one of its Russian residents. The number of Russians granted tier-one visas fell from 46 in 2017 to 29 last year, the lowest number since they were introduced in 2008.

Duncan Hames, director of policy at the anti-corruption charity Transparency International UK, said the proposals were “far more modest” than those first envisaged by ministers.

He said a recommendation had not been included that would have set up an independent body to carry out checks on 3,000 individuals granted tier-one visas before 2015, when there were “little to no checks on the source of applicants’ wealth”.

He added: “We are still in the dark about the legitimacy of £3bn entering the UK, most of which came from investors from high corruption-risk states.”

Home Office officials said the department was still “looking into” the idea of wealth audits, but they would not be included in the April rule changes. The department has already made an embarrassing U-turn after it was forced to reverse a complete suspension of the investor visa scheme in December on being challenged by immigration lawyers.

Caroline Nokes, immigration minister, said her priority was “making sure that talented business people continue to see the UK as an attractive destination to develop their businesses”.

Separately, the Home Office said on Thursday it would relax conditions for entry in two other tier-one visas — the “start-up visa” (formally known as graduate entrepreneur) and the “innovator visa” (previously called the entrepreneur visa). The former is being expanded to people of any background looking to start a business, not just recent graduates. They will also be given a total of two years, rather than one, to make their business a success before applying for a further visa.

Meanwhile, the innovator route will be for more experienced business people but applicants will need only £50,000 to invest, rather than £200,000 under the current scheme. Both routes will be assessed by “endorsing bodies and business experts” rather than the Home Office.

Nadine Goldfoot, a partner at immigration law firm Fragomen, welcomed the changes. “The Home Office are making good practical changes for entrepreneurs and they’re doing the right thing,” she said. “It makes such a difference when experts assess applications, rather than officials being expected to decide what makes a good business.”


Publication: 7 March 2019

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