Eight Russian oligarchs, who have been put on United Kingdom’s sanctions’ list owing to their ties with President Vladimir Putin, were granted ‘Golden Visas’ to live in the UK, the country’s Home Office Minister Susan Williams recently informed the Parliament.
Although the identities of the oligarchs haven’t been revealed, those sanctioned by the UK include Alisher Usmanov, one of the wealthiest men in the world, Roman Abramovich, the former owner of the Chelsea Football Club, Igor Sechin, Andrey Guryev Jr and Oleg Deripaska among others.
We take a look at what the Golden Visa is that allegedly helps people “buy their way into the UK”.
The United Kingdom’s Golden Visa, popularly known as Tier 1 (Investor) Visa, was launched in 2008 as a means to get high net-worth individuals to make substantial investments in the country. It is often seen as a fast-track route for wealthy investors to migrate to the UK.
The British government, however, had stopped taking in new applications for the visa scheme from February 17, 2022, as Russia began making moves to invade Ukraine. Announcing the decision, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel had said that the move would help stop “corrupt elites who threaten our national security and push dirty money around our cities”.
The UK’s Golden Visa requires the applicants to have a valid entry clearance, for which they should be at least 18 years of age, and have complete control or ownership over the assets and investments that they are claiming. The assets and the investment fund should not be acquired by any illegal means. In case these funds have been made available by another party, the applicant should inform the entry clearance officer in order to ensure that “the character, conduct or associations of that party are such that approval of the application would not be conducive to the public good”.
The applicant is also required to provide a criminal record certificate of the last 10 years while aged 18 or above, from a country they have been living in for more than a year. “This requirement does not need to be met where the Secretary of State is satisfied, by way of an explanation provided in or with the application, that it is not reasonably practicable for the applicant to obtain a certificate from the relevant authority.”
The applicants are at least required to invest £750,000 in order to apply for a Golden Visa. The entry clearance can only be granted for two years and the applicants cannot seek employment as a doctor or dentist unless they have sought a degree or medical license from a UK institution or an institution recognised by the government. The applicants also cannot seek employment as a professional sportsperson or a sports coach.
To apply for a Tier-1 (Investor) Visa ‘leave to remain’, which is a way for non-UK residents to stay in the country for a specific time period, applicants should not breach any immigration laws. The leave to remain or enter would be curtailed if they fail to invest or have someone invest on their behalf the amount of capital promised to the UK government through government bonds within the first three months. It would also be cancelled if the applicants shared “capital or loan capital in active and trading UK registered companies other than those principally engaged in property investment”.
The applicant should also maintain the level of investment throughout his stay in the UK.
Those applying for the Golden Visa and wish for indefinite or permanent residency are required to at least have a £2-million investment fund in a bank account in the UK. The granting of an indefinite residency visa takes time depending upon the investment made by the applicant. According to The Guardian, the granting of residency based on a £2 million investment takes up to five years, whereas a £10 million one takes up to two.
Besides the aforementioned ones, the other requirements for permanent residency include that the applicants should have a fair idea about life in the UK and should have “sufficient” knowledge of the English language.
The Golden Visa system was overseen by the law department till 2015, post which the UK government took over.
According to a report by The Guardian, 2,581 Golden Visas have been issued to Russian citizens since 2008. According to Spotlight, an anti-corruption platform, half of the total Golden Visas issued, which is 6,312, have been found to have potential national security risks. Russians and Chinese nationals make up the biggest groups of applicants.
The Golden Visa scheme was already under scrutiny since 2018 after the death of Russian military intelligence agent Sergei Skripal, which had led to the deterioration of relations between the UK and Russia. Following this, the Golden Visa scheme rules were tightened in 2019 to include the requirement of applicants to have a UK bank account.
What has the UK done to reform the system?
While scrapping the Golden Visa scheme, Patel had said: “This demonstrates the government’s new plan for immigration in action — being firm against those wanting to abuse the system, while those who want to come to the UK and play by the rules will have that opportunity. The Home Office will be making reforms to the innovator route, part of the new points-based immigration system, to provide an ambitious investment route which works more effectively in support of the UK’s economy.” She had added that the new system would help the UK select investors who can show genuine job creation and other tangible economic impacts while passive UK investments will no longer be enough to obtain settlement.
The European Commission, on Monday, had urged all governments to immediately end the golden passport schemes or provide settlement opportunities to investors but suspend visas for Russians and Belarusians.
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