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‘Golden visas’ for super-rich foreign investors suspended in crime crackdown

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Fast-track visas for foreign investors spending millions of pounds in the UK will be suspended in a crackdown on money laundering.

The Home Office said it was pausing Tier 1 investor visas, dubbed “golden visas”, from midnight on Friday as it attempts to tackle serious organised crime.

They will be reinstated once toughened measures have been put in place, ministers said.

Tier 1 visas were introduced in 2008 to attract non-EU citizens to invest millions of pounds into the UK, with more than 1,000 granted in the year ending September 2018.

An investment of £2m or more could secure a visa and indefinite leave to remain after five years.

Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea football club and friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, withdrew his golden visa application earlier this year as relations between the two countries went south over the Salisbury spy poisoning.

Roman Abramovich is the owner of Chelsea football club
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Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich withdrew his Tier 1 visa application this year

Golden visa applicants could apply three months before arriving in the UK and would get a decision within three weeks, having paid a £1,623 fee.

For those wanting an even speedier Tier 1 investor visa, they could pay £12,733.

Immigration minister Caroline Nokes said: “The UK will always be open to legitimate and genuine investors who are committed to helping our economy and businesses grow.

“However, I have been clear that we will not tolerate people who do not play by the rules and seek to abuse the system.

Minster of State for Immigration, Caroline Nokes, arrives in Downing Street
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Caroline Nokes said the suspension was to protect the UK from crime

“That is why I am bringing forward these new measures which will make sure that only genuine investors, who intend to support UK businesses, can benefit from our immigration system.”

Golden visas have been widely condemned by those who believe they leave the UK open to corruption or stolen funds being laundered through the UK from Russia, China and the Middle East.

The Home Office said changes would include applicants having to provide comprehensive audits of all their financial and business interests.

Audits would have to be carried out by regulated UK auditing firms separate from any qualifying investments or the visa application.

Those applying will also have to prove they have had control of the £2m for at least two years.

Reforms will also aim to increase the benefits to UK companies by excluding investment in government bonds and strengthening the rules to ensure investments are made in active and trading UK companies.

It will also be possible for pooled investments, supported by the government, to back projects with a clear economic benefit to the UK, such as supporting small and medium enterprises.

The changes are part of wider reforms to the visa system, which also include replacing the Tier 1 Graduate and Entrepreneur visa routes with a Start-up visa, announced in June, and the Innovator visa route.

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