Anti-corruption campaigners have welcomed a decision by the British Home Office to temporarily suspend a fast-track visa scheme for wealthy investors — that has been used by many Indians — but have called for urgent action against those found to have invested suspicious wealth in the U.K. The British government will suspend the Tier-1 (Investor) visa, which enables its holders to gain a swift route to settlement in the U.K., until new safeguarding rules are brought in in 2019, British media reported on Thursday. Eighty-two Indian nationals applied for an investor visa through this route between 2008 and March 2018, according to Transparency International.
A faster route The scheme, which is open to those who invest at least £2 million in U.K. government, shares or businesses, offers a faster route to settlement in the country. Those who invest over £10 million can apply to settle after two years, while those who invest over £5 million can do so in three years. While the U.K. government had sought to position the visa scheme as part of its strategy to attract the “brightest and the best”, campaigners have long warned that it provided a means for the super wealthy internationally to launder money in the U.K. In 2015, Transparency International identified over 3,000 individuals and their families — the “vast majority” of whom were from Russia and China — who had been granted these so-called “golden” visas with “little to no checks done” on the source of the wealth.
In some cases, applicants were awarded visas even before opening a U.K. bank account. “Property and other high-end sectors are increasingly accused of allowing dirty money into the U.K. but it’s astonishing to think that the U.K.’s own visa scheme can be used to launder corrupt money into the U.K. Once obtained, ‘Golden’ visas can also open the door to channel much larger sums of stolen cash into our financial system,” said Duncan Hames of Transparency International. Past cases The group, while welcoming the suspension of the scheme and the introduction of tighter checks, argued that it is imperative for the government to review past cases to ensure anyone who had brought in funds of suspicious origin faced police investigations. “Any new investor visa system must be water-tight, and subject to independent checks to ensure it does not become a red carpet for those who seek to use the U.K. as a safe haven for their ill-gotten gains.”
Indians were among the top five groups to be awarded the visa between 2008 and March 2018 — alongside China (1,278), Russia (815), the U.S. (187), and Hong Kong (132). Among the changes set to be brought in are comprehensive audits by regulated auditors of the applicants’ financial and business interests, as well as checks that they have had full control of the funds for at least two years, the BBC reported.