UK Golden Visa

| February 8, 2023
UK Visa

In 2008, as a means of bringing investment, commerce, and wealth to the United Kingdom, a form of Golden Visa known as a Tier 1 Investor Visa was introduced. Under the scheme, wealthy foreign nationals who invested £2,000,000 or more in the UK could fast-track an application for permanent UK residency after just five years.

The waiting time for a residency application could be reduced even further as an investment greater than £5,000,000 allowed Tier 1 Investor Visa holders to apply after just three years, while anything over £10,000,000 brought the time frame down to just two years. A successful application for citizenship meant that not only did the applicant acquire the right to live permanently within the United Kingdom, but this right also applied to any immediate family members.

Open to Abuse

Amid growing concerns as to who was applying for citizenship and how the wealth had been accumulated, the authorities introduced more stringent background checks for all foreign applicants. The main concern was that the system was being used (and abused) by undesirable foreign nationals who could easily afford the small investment required and thereby achieve British citizenship.

These undesirables included well-known criminals and corrupt government officials, and, most worrying, Russian oligarchs with dubious connections to criminal gangs operating in Russia and overseas.

The Russian Problem

Since its 2008 introduction, the British Home Office has approved almost 2,600 Tier 1 Investor Visas to Russians, and concern was quickly raised as to the source of these visa holders’ wealth. In 2020, following extensive investigations and financial background checks, it was decided that too many Investor Visas were being granted to Russian nationals with somewhat dubious backgrounds, and a tougher approach was required.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine further exacerbated matters, and it was strongly felt that many Russian oligarchs, criminals, and (possibly) war criminals could be using the United Kingdom to launder money and secrete their wealth in a safe location.

Money Laundering and Corruption

Late in 2018, the British government suspended the granting of Tier 1 Investor Visas, citing “grave concerns” the scheme was being used as a money laundering device by foreign criminal elements and, possibly, terrorist organizations. Under the existing legislation, a foreign national merely had to lodge the required amount with a British financial institution and be of “good character”, which was a somewhat nebulous term at best. Rather than attracting new investment, which would be used to develop commerce in the United Kingdom, so-called “investors” were merely lodging the funds necessary to qualify for citizenship and allowing it to sit in the bank.

The suspension of the scheme was to last for an indefinite amount of time, during which new guidelines for qualification were to be drawn up, and the crackdown on possible financial crime hardened. The new criteria for qualification included:
An independent audit of an applicant’s financial records and business interests.
Proof that the funds have been under an applicant’s control for at least two years.

Demonstrable use of funds to support and grow UK-based small to medium businesses

Despite the new guidelines, however, the scheme continued to be open to abuse on its reintroduction as wealthy (suspected) criminals were granted Golden Visas. There were also suspicions of corruption in the screening and granting process.

“Golden Visa” Scrapped

In February of 2022, British home secretary Prini Patel officially announced the scrapping of the so-called “Golden Visa” scheme. After years of controversy about who received these visas (and how), the home secretary declared that no further Tier 1 Investor Visas would be issued as there was strong evidence of corruption, fraud, money laundering and criminal activity linked to many of the applications, both successful and unsuccessful.

According to anti-corruption authorities, over 6,300 Golden Visas had been the subject of reviews and investigations into possible national security risks. This represented almost half of all the visas which had been issued during the course of the scheme, and no improvement in these figures was envisaged.

In the seven years from 2008 up to 2015, almost 3,000 Golden Visas were issued, with around 700 going to Russian millionaires. Many of these Russian visa holders have since been shown to have dubious connections to organised criminal organisations, while more are still under investigation.

Innovator Visa

Although not a replacement for the Tier 1 Investor Visa, foreign nationals can still acquire British citizenship through investment, specifically targeting business people and entrepreneurs. an Innovator Visa is designed to aid the British economy by attracting new businesses in which the visa holder is actively involved.

Even before lodging a visa application, the business idea must be assessed and endorsed by an approved body. Once approved, an applicant must also satisfy other specific criteria:

  • Be 18 years of age or older
  • Have a reasonable command of English
  • Have enough funding to support the initial stay in the UK
  • Furthermore, applicants wishing to start a new business in the UK must have a minimum of £50,000 in available funding.

Required Documentation for Innovator Visa

Along with the endorsement letter approving the business idea, applicants for an Innovator Visa will also need to provide the following:

  • A current, valid passport (or other acceptable National Identity papers)
  • Recent bank statement showing a minimum balance of £1,270 for the preceding 28 days
  • Proof of English language proficiency
  • Proof of the minimum amount of funding required
  • The passport should have at least one blank page (to affix the visa).

Other documentation may be required depending on the type of business involved and the applicant’s nationality and relevant skills, experience or qualifications.