Priti Patel has declared the termination of Tier 1 investor visas, designed for individuals investing at least £2 million, marking the initiation of an intensified crackdown on illicit finance and fraud, as stated by the UK Home Secretary.
This scheme, launched in 2008, was introduced with the aim of incentivizing affluent individuals from outside the EU to invest in the United Kingdom. However, concerns about potential misuse and abuse of the program led to a comprehensive review.
The official announcement, initially anticipated for the following week due to mounting pressure on government officials to sever UK associations with Russia amidst concerns of a Ukraine invasion, was confirmed by an inside source to the BBC on Wednesday. The decision’s timing was expedited as part of the government’s “new plan for immigration.”
The Tier 1 (investor) visa, colloquially known as a “golden visa,” grants residency to those who invest £2 million or more in the UK, permitting their families to accompany them. Visa holders can subsequently apply for permanent residency in the UK, with the timeframe contingent on the extent of their investment. A £2 million investment permits an application within five years, reduced to three years with a £5 million investment, or two years with a £10 million investment.
However, the route to attaining residency has now been closed with immediate effect, with the government asserting that it “failed to deliver for the UK people and provided opportunities for corrupt elites to gain access to the UK.”
Priti Patel emphasized, “I have zero tolerance for abuse of our immigration system. Under my new plan for Immigration, I want to ensure the British people have confidence in the system, including stopping corrupt elites who threaten our national security and push dirty money around our cities. Closing this route is just the start of our renewed crackdown on fraud and illicit finance. We will be publishing a fraud action plan, while the forthcoming Economic Crime Bill will crackdown on people abusing our financial institutions and better protect the taxpayer.”
The Home Office has specified that settlement in the UK will henceforth be contingent on applicants “implementing an investment strategy that demonstrates genuine job creation and other tangible economic impacts. Merely holding UK investments passively will no longer suffice.”
Layla Moran, Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesperson, asserted that “Shutting the door to Putin’s cronies is not enough – too many of them have already walked through it with virtually no questions asked,” urging the government to disclose its report concerning visa recipients.
Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary, called for the review’s publication and emphasized the necessity for a comprehensive strategy to “curb illicit finance inflows into the UK.” She pointed out that “for years, the Conservatives failed to stamp out the influence of Russian money in the UK,” indicating that it took international condemnation to spur action by the Home Secretary.
Numerous amendments have been implemented over the years since the inception of the investor visa scheme, encompassing heightened scrutiny of how and when applicants acquired their wealth. Additionally, banks are now mandated to conduct specific checks before opening accounts for applicants, who are also required to submit supplementary documentation if their qualifying funds are invested through a chain of distinct companies.
In 2020, the Parliamentary Intelligence and security committee advocated for a more rigorous approach to approving Tier 1 visas as part of its report on Russian influence in the UK.
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