Home Office granted right to live in UK through tier 1 scheme to 46 people aged 21 or under, FoI request reveals
Anti-corruption campaigners and MPs have warned that “the kids of oligarchs” may have used their parents’ money to buy the right to live in the UK after it was revealed that the government granted “golden visas” to 46 people aged 21 or under.
The Home Office on Wednesday disclosed that it approved 46 applications for the tier 1 investor visa scheme to those aged 21 or under over the last seven years, following a freedom of information request from Bloomberg.
The golden visa scheme – which was scrapped in February over fears that it had been exploited by Russian oligarchs – was designed to attract wealthy people to the UK and required applicants to invest at least £2m.
Thousands used it to secure fast-track rights to live and work in Britain, and the scheme was particularly popular with Russian and Chinese families.
John Penrose, a Conservative MP who serves as “the prime minister’s anti-corruption champion”, said the revelation raised concerns that golden visas could have been “a loophole for kleptocrats’ children to live gilded lives in London funded by dirty money”.
He added: “If golden visas were granted to the brightest and best young entrepreneurs, Britain will have benefited hugely from the jobs, energy and wealth which they will have created.
“The answer is for the government to publish its long-promised review of golden visas, so we can see what really happened and when. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as the saying goes.”
It was previously revealed that eight Russian oligarchs on the UK sanctions list over their links to Vladimir Putin were also granted golden visas to live in Britain. The Home Office has declined to name the sanctioned individuals who were given visas, and who Johnson described as having “the blood of the Ukrainian people on their hands”.
Dr Susan Hawley, the executive director of Spotlight on Corruption, said the latest revelation of potential abuse of the golden visa scheme was “deeply concerning”.
“Due to a loophole in the golden visa regime, there were little to no checks on the source of wealth if the money was gifted to the person applying for the visa,” she said.
“This means the kids of oligarchs may have used their parents’ money, possibly obtained through corruption, to secure UK residency, exemplifying yet again how the regime facilitated the flow of dirty money into the UK.Advertisement
“The government urgently needs to publish a report on the national security risks golden visas posed, so that there is a fuller understanding of these risks, and appropriate action is taken.”
Launched in 2008, but with its origins in an investor route dating back to 1994, the scheme allowed people with at least £2m in investment funds and a UK bank account to apply for residency rights along with their family.
The speed with which applicants were given indefinite leave to remain was hastened by how much money they planned to invest in the UK: £2m took five years, while £10m – a higher option introduced in 2011 – shortened the wait to two years.
After the 2018 Salisbury poisonings of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, a former Russian military officer and his daughter, the government launched a review into the investors who were awarded visas from 2008 to 2015. The review has yet to be published.
During a “blind faith period” between 2008 and 2015, 97% of investors were subject to scant checks on the legitimacy of their wealth leading to concerns about undesirable people slipping into the country, say critics.
According to Spotlight on Corruption, 6,312 golden visas – half the number of all those issued – had been reviewed for “possible national security risks”.
Duncan Hames, director of policy at the anti-corruption campaign group Transparency International UK, said: “Media investigations, court cases and the occasional snippet from ministers have shed some light on the pasts of some visa recipients, but we are still largely in the dark about the true extent of abuse of the scheme.
“The Home Office should publish its long-overdue review, with individual cases investigated where there are concerns that the applicants made their money through crime or corruption. Only through some genuine openness can we hope enough people will learn from the mistakes of the past.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have made it clear we will not tolerate abuse of our immigration system and we closed the tier 1 (investor) route to ensure those who have profited from dirty money cannot gain access to the UK.
“The new Economic Crime Act, which received royal assent after an expedited passage through parliament, delivers a package of measures to bring tougher sanctions against those who facilitate illicit finance in the UK and empowers law enforcement to investigate entities who do not comply.”