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The Investor Visa: Total Abolition or a Temporary Break to Rebrand?

1 August 2022

What is an Investor Visa?

Launched in 2008, the glamorously named Golden Visa (more formally known as the Investor Visa) encouraged wealthy people from abroad to invest in the UK, eventually leading to settlement and what was often the ultimate goal, British Citizenship. The speed at which settlement could be attained, quite simply, depended on the amount that was invested. Unsurprisingly, a visa which effectively rewards individuals for their wealthy status attracted some criticism, but ultimately most visa schemes assess what benefits the applicant brings to the country and if wealth be it, then few could argue that this was not a positive contribution.

The UK certainly wasn’t the only country to offer such a scheme, but with the hot property market, health care system and globally acclaimed education system, it was the most popular and sought- after in the world. To add to the already attractive package for the overseas elite, it had the fastest processing times in the world and with 1- 3 weeks clearing time, provided a rapid turnaround time demanded by most High Net Worth individuals, in contrast to other countries in the developed world that could take up to 2 years for a decision.

The Conditions of the Investor Visa

So all in all, a mutually beneficial arrangement had been established, the system worked and continued working for many years. Applicants could, for what was to many of them a small price (of late, an investment of £2 million and the humble Home Office fee of £1,623), attain swift access the UK.

2019: Revision of Rules

Matters started to get a little more serious in 2019 when various new rules were introduced to tighten the scheme, such as the requirement that there not just be an investment of the requisite funds, but also that the Applicant open a bank account which now had to include significant background checks, as well as the investment being held for 2 years rather than the previous 3 months. Additionally, the definition of what constituted a qualifying investment into an “active and trading UK bank account” was narrowed to weed out any sham set-ups which would effectively have been abusing the system.

2022: The Investor Visa is Scrapped

The hurdles created by these new regulations in 2019, however, were certainly not insurmountable and the Golden Visa remained a popular and attractive scheme for many. It was therefore with huge disappoint that, amongst the many international shifts of landscape resulting from the Russia and Ukraine war and after much behind-the-scenes parliamentary debate around the UK becoming the playground of money launderers, the Golden Visa was scrapped in February 2022. The concern was that there would be a flow of illicit funds into the UK from Russia and that further, we would be inviting high risk and politically controversial individuals into the jurisdiction with a potential fast track to becoming a British citizen. The debating forum exploded with many arguing that the UK had always received floods of illicit funds since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and that London was jokingly known as “Moscow-on-Thames” amongst the Russian elite. It was therefore considered an unfair political move to remove the scheme completely now. However, the uproar was all academic as the gates were firmly locked.

Dilemma for Genuine Applicants

With the global pandemic subsiding and travel restrictions being lifted, many had been waiting for some time to embark on this route only to discover that when they were finally permitted to move, the visa was completely removed. This was particularly frustrating for those overseas individuals who were genuine applicants with no intention or desire to engage in any illegal activities.

Immigration advisors attempting to salvage something from the wreckage started to recommend alternative routes such as Skilled Worker Visa or the Innovator Visa. However, wealthy and powerful clients whose VIP status and hefty investment were meant to guarantee a warm welcome, were bemused at the proposal of suddenly having to show a “skill”. As a result, solutions have been proving to be very limited.

Where are we now?

As the current situation stands, there is no alternative visa offered and the Golden Visa continues to be spoken of in the past tense. There is no doubt, however, that the scheme was important to the British economy and there will undoubtedly be much debate over how to repackage this visa in a way that encourages clean investment and upholds the international reputation of the UK. By analogy, previously more relaxed rules allowed for businesses to employ droves of illegal immigrants who were only caught if spontaneously raided. In response, the Home Office introduced compulsory measures in the form of a Sponsor Licence, the stringent rules of which made clear that employers had a duty to ensure that the system wasn’t being abused. This fairly allowed workers to bring their skill to the country in exchange for an employment opportunity that may result in settlement and citizenship. So, reflecting on these patterns, we await with optimism new developments and trust that the Home Office will restore a package that both encourages investment and creates a threshold to ensure that criminals are not welcome.

This article is provided by Burlingtons for general information only. It is not intended to be and cannot be relied upon as legal advice or otherwise. If you would like to discuss any of the matters covered in this article, please contact Sarah Khawaja or write to us using the contact form below.

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