Britain suspends visa scheme for top investors

The visa has been available to those with access to at least £2 million (S$3.42 million) to invest in the UK.
The visa has been available to those with access to at least £2 million (S$3.42 million) to invest in the UK.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK • Britain is suspending its top tier of investor visas, closing a route to permanent residence and citizenship that has proved popular with the rich, including Russian oligarchs.

The Tier 1 Investor visa programme will be suspended from midnight today, ahead of reforms designed to tackle money laundering and organised crime, according to a Home Office statement. The changes require applicants to provide audits of their financial and business interests and exclude government bonds as a qualifying investment.

The suspension will lift once the changes, due next year, have been put in place.

The visa has been available to those with access to at least £2 million (S$3.5 million) to invest in Britain. The scheme is open to those from outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland. Such government-backed immigration schemes are not uncommon; the US has an immigration programme, known as the EB-5 visa, that lets immigrants who create jobs in the country stay permanently.

The British move could hamper people worldwide, but Russian oligarchs may be most affected. Britain has long been a particularly appealing jurisdiction for ultra-rich Russians as a safe and stable place to do business, hold their wealth and educate their children. But the suspension is the latest sign that such appeal may be fading as the government cracks down after the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy on British soil.

"We will not tolerate people who do not play by the rules and seek to abuse the system," Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said in the statement. The new measures "will make sure that only genuine investors, who intend to support UK businesses, can benefit from our immigration system".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2018, with the headline 'Britain suspends visa scheme for top investors'. Print Edition | Subscribe