The UK is preparing to abolish its so-called “golden visa” regime within weeks, as Russian actions over Ukraine spurred renewed calls to tackle “dirty money” flooding into the UK.
The Tier 1 “investor visa” route has in the past attracted wealthy Russian and other international investors, who have resettled in the UK under the scheme.
The visas have been under review since the UK’s relations with Russia deteriorated after the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018.
The rules to qualify for investor visas – under which people must show they have at least £ 2mn to invest in the UK – were tightened up in 2015 and checks on how applicants obtained their money were introduced. Since 2019, applicants must also have proof of a UK bank account.
However, allies of home secretary Priti Patel said she was keen to scrap the whole regime due to concerns the system could be exploited by those laundering illicit funds. Government officials confirmed plans were being drawn up to scrap the visas within weeks.
Parliament’s intelligence and security committee warned in 2020 that “the exploitation of the UK’s investor visa scheme” was a draw for many Russians. It said the UK had provided “ideal mechanisms” for the recycling of illicit finance, adding it had become a “laundromat” for offshore wealth.
The government issued 798 investor visas in the 12 months to September 2021, 82 of which were awarded to Russians. Over the same period, 210 visas were issued to Chinese nationals.
“These Tier 1 shows have been a gold-plated invite to launder money in the UK,” said Chris Bryant, a Labor MP who sits on the Commons foreign affairs select committee.
“The government has to come clean about how they’ve been abused and the UK has got to stop its addiction to dodgy money. I can not understand why the home secretary did not get rid of them ages ago. She was even on the foreign affairs committee when we recommended it. ”
In 2018, former home secretary Amber Rudd asked officials to review the basis on which more than 700 wealthy Russians were allowed to settle in the UK under the scheme. After years of delay, the government has committed to publishing its findings before April.
The Home Office said: “We reformed the Tier 1 visa route in 2015 and in 2019 to crack down on dirty money and we have not ruled out making further changes.
“As part of our work to prevent this route from corruption we are reviewing all Tier 1 investor visas granted before these reforms were made, and will report on our findings in due course.”