While Spotlight welcomes the government’s commitment in today’s statement to Parliament that it will never again have a visa scheme based solely on wealth, we are disappointed that the full review has not been published and the statement lacks critical details.
The statement failed to give full information about:
- how many individuals the review found were at high risk of corruption or organised crime and which countries they came from,
- how many of these individuals were granted or refused indefinite leave to remain or British citizenship, or
- detailed statistics about what actions have been taken in relation to these high-risk individuals who entered the UK.
It also failed to address the risks posed by the 5,435 golden visas granted between April 2015 and the regime’s closure in 2022 despite real ongoing issues that we highlighted in our briefing, Red Carpet for Dirty Money. These risks included ongoing lax checks on applicants and money being invested offshore back into Russian companies as part of the scheme and some of those who entered since 2015 may continue to pose a security risk to the UK.
Almost five years of work went into the review and the public deserves to know the full findings so that it can scrutinise whether the government has taken adequate steps to address the serious risks the regime posed to our national security.
There are also important lessons to be learned and we need to know that they are being taken on board as a matter of priority. The Home Office has acknowledged that it did not have the specialist financial expertise to prevent the golden visa regime being abused by corrupt actors. We know from the important work done by the New Statesman that other routes, such as the Tier 2 visa route, are also vulnerable.
It is critical that the Home Office urgently develops specialist financial and economic crime expertise in its immigration function to make sure the other schemes and future schemes do not allow dirty money to enter the UK.
Today the Home Secretary made a statement on the Home Office’s review of 6,312 Tier 1 (Investor) visas granted between 2008-2015.
The review found that:
- A “small minority of individuals” that got a UK golden visa were at high risk of having obtained wealth through corruption or illicit finance or organised crime, including 10 sanctioned Russian oligarchs.
- “The route attracted a disproportionate number of applicants from the countries identified in the UK’s National Risk Assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing 2020” as posing a real money laundering risk to the UK.
- The immigration system was not well equipped to respond to the particular risks of the route, which “would require specialist expertise in detecting financial criminality.”
- There was no evidence of systemic failure by financial institutions in carrying out checks but there was exploitation of institutions with the weakest controls.
- Law enforcement has access to the data and the findings have been discussed with independent operational partners.
In addition to the list above, the Home Secretary also did not reveal:
- How many regulatory actions have been taken against those financial institutions exploited
- How many referrals the Home Office has made to law enforcement as a result of the review
- How many golden visas have been granted since the regime was closed, as existing applications were processed.