UK ministers plan to scrap ‘golden visa’ scheme amid Russia concerns | Immigration and asylum

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Ministers are preparing to scrap the “golden visa” system that allows wealthy foreign investors a fast track to living in the UK, amid concerns over links with Russia.

Given concerns about how the system is being taken advantage of, and against a backdrop of souring relations with Moscow given its military buildup on the border with Ukraine, the home secretary, Priti Patel, is to axe the residence route.

Launched in 2008, the scheme allows people with at least £2m in investment funds and a UK bank account to apply for a “tier one investor visa”.

Government sources suggested Patel would get rid of the pathway to residency next week, amid concerns that not enough background checks are being made on applicants.

James Heappey, the armed forces minister, suggested the change was being made in part because of the Kremlin’s buildup of troops near Ukraine.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday: “Changes were made to that in 2015 and 2019 to make sure that the checks were ever more stringent. But absolutely, as we enter into what could be a generation or longer of quite acute competition with Russia, all of the things that have become normal in Anglo-Russian relations over the last 30 years will be up for review. And that is, I think, what the home secretary and her team are looking at at the moment.”

At least 700 such visas have been issued to Russian millionaires in the first eight years of the scheme, according to the Times.

The controversial issue had been due to come to a head in several weeks anyway, as an amendment tabled to the nationality and borders bill during its report stage in the House of Lords would, if passed, have required the visa route to be suspended.

Chris Bryant, a Labour MP and former minister, has previously called for a full review of the scheme, saying the government was “giving out golden visas to dodgy Russian oligarchs” by allowing the system to be used as a “backdoor loophole” to funnel dirty money into the UK.

In 2018 a report published by the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee, which at that time included Patel as a member, accused ministers of risking national security by “turning a blind eye” to the Russian “dirty money” flowing through the City of London.

The committee’s current chair, Tom Tugendhat, said it was “great news” that the golden visa system would be scrapped, tweeting that it was “so often used to get round proper checks”.

Concerns over the practice of issuing golden visas were raised during the committee’s inquiry, which found that despite the outcry over the Salisbury novichok attack, Vladimir Putin and his allies were continuing to use London as a base for their “corrupt assets”.

Concerns have previously been raised about ties between the Conservatives and Russian oligarchs. In November, Labour said that according to calculations based on disclosures to the Electoral Commission, £1.93m had been handed to the Conservative party or individual constituency associations by Russians or people who made money from the country in the period since Boris Johnson took power.

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