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UK scraps golden visas for foreign investors amid Russian money crackdown

LONDON — The U.K. has scrapped a visa scheme that allowed wealthy foreign nationals to settle in the country in exchange for bringing some of their wealth with them, amid a clampdown on Russian dirty money.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel announced Thursday she is axing the Tier 1 Investor visa scheme immediately, following pressure on the U.K. government over illicit finance linked to the Kremlin.

Also known as the golden visa scheme, this route has allowed investors and businesspeople from overseas, including countries often at odds with the U.K. like Russia and China, to achieve a fast-track residence status in return for bringing over £2 million to Britain.

Patel said closing this scheme “is just the start of our renewed crackdown on fraud and illicit finance,” which will also include a long-delayed Economic Crime Bill to boost transparency around foreign ownership of real estate.

“I have zero tolerance for abuse of our immigration system,” Patel said, insisting her proposal would help stop “corrupt elites who threaten our national security and push dirty money around our cities.”

As of the end of March 2020, the government had issued 2,581 visas to Russian citizens since the Tier 1 Investor visa scheme was introduced in 2008.

In 2020, the U.K. parliament’s intelligence and security committee called for a “more robust” approach to issuing Tier 1 visas as part of a major report flagging Russian influence on the U.K.  

Although changes were introduced over the years, including checks on the origins of applicants’ wealth, cross-party MPs had piled pressure on Patel to scrap the route, arguing London needed to shake its image as a top destination for money laundering.

The Home Office said it will soon publish a report on the scheme, including the findings of an investigation into 700 Russian millionaires who were granted one of these visas between 2008 and 2015.

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