On 5 November 2018 came the seemingly out of the blue announcement that the Tier 1 Investor visa route was to be suspended in two days’ time. The media had been briefed overnight with all major outlets running prominent pieces about this dramatic development.
Wealthy individuals, and immigration practitioners alike, went into panic mode, as it appeared that the primary route for rich migrants seeking visas to the UK through investment was being closed down. However, five days after the supposed suspension, it transpired that the Investor route had in fact not been suspended after all. And how did the Home Office communicate this U-turn? Through a three-line email which emerged from correspondence with the Immigration Law Practitioner’s Association.
With this ‘non-suspension’, however, came various clues as to how this scheme will look in the future. And the Home Office has confirmed that reform is coming and a further announcement will be made in due course.
The Tier 1 Investor route was introduced in 2008 under the points-based system. In the first three quarters of this year, 284 initial Investor visas were granted. Under this route the key requirements are that the individual has held at least £2 million, for three months prior to applying, for the purposes of investing in the UK. Unlike with other visa categories which lead to settlement, there is no English language requirement.
What will change?
When the route was [not] closed down last week, the Home Office stated the route was being suspended pending the introduction of new measures, including:
- comprehensive auditing of the migrant’s financial and business interests by a UK firm;
- a requirement to have held the £2 million for two years, rather than three months at present;
- excluding investment by way of gilts; and
- investment by way of pooled, government supported investments, including in small and medium-sized businesses.
Why last week?
These changes might attract public sympathy; hence the fanfare of suspension, but it still seemed a strange time to be taking such action, amidst the turmoil of Brexit wholesale changes to immigration which are around the corner.
The principle behind the Tier 1 Investor route is to facilitate the entry to the UK of ‘high-net-worth individuals making a substantial financial investment in the UK’. However, as far back as 2014 the MAC noted that, beyond this self-evident statement, the underlying policy objective of the Investor route was “not readily apparent”. The report was particularly critical of investment by way of gilts, unsurprising perhaps, given that a gilt is merely a loan to Government which is then returned to the investor at a given period. The MAC noted that it was the investors themselves who benefitted from the visa, rather than the UK.
But these findings were made back in 2014 and seemed to cause little consternation to the Government, until now. Does this go back to the Salisbury attack, following which the Home Office committed to reviewing the right of more than 700 wealthy Russians to live in the UK? As I wrote about in an earlier piece, the Salisbury attack appeared to directly lead to Roman Abramovich’s visa application being put on hold. The man whose reputedly ill-gotten gains were welcomed with open arms was now outcast (he is now an Israeli national and has reportedly withdrawn his Investor visa).
Regardless of motive, the manner in which this has been handled seems rather incompetent, even by Home Office standards. The highly-politicised area of immigration law is already absurdly complex and opaque, without the Home Office not only committing a U-turn, but then failing to properly tell anyone about it!