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17 February 2022

How the UK’s “golden visa” system has favoured Russian and Chinese investors

More than half of all “golden visas” have been awarded to applicants from Russia and China since 2008.

By Afiq Fitri

Fast-tracked citizenship routes in exchange for millions in investment are widely expected to come to an end, as pressure grows on the UK to review its ties to Russia amid heightened fears of an invasion of Ukraine. 

The Tier 1 investor visa – also known as a “golden visa” – was established by the Conservatives in 1994 to attract investment into the country in exchange for residency and citizenship rights. Under current Home Office rules, a £2m investment allows a person to apply to settle in the UK after five years, while a £10m investment halves that period. More than 12,000 of these visas have been issued since 2008. 

Immigration statistics show that 18 per cent of all “golden visas” were issued to Russian nationals between 2008 and 2021. Applicants from China also made up more than a third of successful applications for the visa scheme. Out of the group of 16 applicant countries that have been given a “golden visa”, at least 11 of them are ranked at the lower end of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

The “golden visa” regime has long drawn criticism for facilitating money laundering through a complex web of lawyers, advisers and asset managers in the capital. In 2020, parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee warned that the programme “offered ideal mechanisms by which illicit finance could be recycled”. A report from Spotlight on Corruption last year also revealed that all “golden visas” issued between 2008-15 during the “blind faith” period – when minimal checks were made on an applicant’s wealth – were being investigated by the Home Office for possible risks to national security. 

The same report also found that a decision on a “golden visa” application was usually made by the Home Office within three weeks, compared with an average of six months for asylum applications. Just 9 per cent of these visas were rejected, while 42 per cent of asylum applications were thrown out between 2008 and 2019. 

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