Today the Supreme Court ruled that a circular investment scheme run by Russian nationals and used by more than 100 predominantly Chinese individuals, referred by Chinese immigration agencies, bypassed key requirements of the UK’s “golden visa” regime.
Far from achieving its purpose of facilitating “significant financial investment in the UK”, these wealthy individuals entered loan agreements worth almost £112 million which were almost exclusively invested in businesses in Russia in the years directly following Russia’s invasion of Crimea. This was done through companies controlled and owned by two Russian nationals who set up a business to invest in the Russian stock market.
The migrant applicant in this case, Ms Wang, entered the UK on a Tier 1 (Investor) visa in January 2014, during the so-called “blind faith” period when there were minimal checks on funds. Yet it was only in late 2017, when Ms Wang applied to renew her visa, that the Home Office picked up that not one penny of her £1 million investment was under her control and actually being invested in the UK. This raises questions as to whether the other 100 investor migrants who used this scheme have now had their visas revoked and have been required to leave the UK.
Today’s welcome decision by the Supreme Court upholds the government’s decision to refuse the renewal of Ms Wang’s leave to remain, but it highlights the ongoing fall-out from the UK’s golden visa scheme which was so clearly open to abuse and failed to provide much economic benefit to the UK. At its worst, this scheme allowed money to be syphoned into businesses in Russia, bolstering the Russian economy at a time when Russia was actively pursuing aggression against Ukraine.
While the government has no plans to reopen an investor visa route, there is no room for complacency. In February 2022, the scheme was closed to new applicants, but the government has not come clean on the full scale of the abuses that its review of the scheme uncovered. The government has so far declined to release the full findings of this and admitted the scheme “delivered poor economic outcomes”, but following today’s judgment it’s clear that its full economic assessment of the golden visa scheme should be published immediately.
The government also needs to report swiftly on what risks it has found and safeguards it has now put in place in relation to those who have entered the UK with golden visas or passports from jurisdictions like Malta, Cyprus or Vanuatu. Urgent steps also need to be taken to embed specialist financial expertise in the Home Office immigration function to ensure that the risk of those seeking to enter the UK with illicit sources of money or to interfere in our domestic politics is being properly addressed.
Dr Helen Taylor, Senior Legal Researcher at Spotlight on Corruption, said:
“This ruling will be a huge relief to the government but there are some serious questions to be asked about how this scheme – which appears to have benefitted Russia at a time it was invading parts of Ukraine – was ever allowed in the first place.
It was a very welcome step by the government to close the UK’s golden visa regime but there is still very little clarity on what action the Home Office has taken about those it found had abused the regime or who posed high risks to the UK. The government also has yet to report on what it has found in its more recent review about people entering the UK via the backdoor of golden passports from friendly jurisdictions.”