updated 2:57 PM CEST, Sep 21, 2023

UK announces end to 'golden visa' program for millionaire foreigners, citing use by Russians

The UK has announced that it is ending its long-running "golden visa" program that was designed to enable foreign nationals to live in Britain, and potentially acquire full citizenship, if they invested more than £2 million (US$2.7 million) in UK investments, citing concerns about the program's use by wealthy Russians.

UK home secretary Priti Patel announced the immediate closure of the "Tier 1" visa program last week, saying that it was intended to stop “corrupt elites who threaten our national security and push dirty money around our cities."

More than 12,000 such visas were reported to have been granted since the program was launched in 2008, of which more than 2,500 were said to have been given to Russians. 

Initially the amount necessary to acquire the visa was just £1 million, but this was doubled in 2014. 

Concerns about the program had been raised in the past, such as in 2016, when some critics raised questions about whether it was actually benefiting the country, as so many of the Tier 1 visa applicants were using the money to buy UK properties, and some critics suggested the program could be helping to push property prices out of the range of British citizens.

As reported, the UK came close to suspending the program in December, 2018, after then-UK immigration minister Caroline Nokes cited concerns that some of those taking advantage of it may have been using it to launder money and otherwise engage in criminal activities. At that time, the plan had been to resume the Tier 1 program once an audit process had been introduced, according to reports, but in the end, the program continued to operate.

Some months before that, the March 2018 poisoning of a former Russian agent and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury in 2018 resulted in a deterioration in relations between the UK and the Kremlin, and questions also being asked about the Tier 1 visa program. 

The British government subsequently launched a review into the Tier 1 visa program, to span the years between 2008 and 2015, but media reports say that review has yet to be published.

Golden visa programs being cut back, ending 

The UK's latest change of heart about its golden visa program comes as a growing number of other countries have also been trimming back or ending their golden visa regimes as well. In addition to concerns about money-laundering and crime, the impact such programs have typically had on local property prices has often been cited as a reason for ending them.

Portugal, for example, announced last year that it would begin to limit its increasingly-controversial program, which had originally been designed to attract wealthy, non-EU nationals to live and work in the country, and which had handed out nearly 10,000 visas after it was set up in 2012, according to data from the Portughese border agency (Servico de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras). 

In 2014, Canada announced it was ending its decades-old "millionaire visa" program – one of the earliest and most popular such schemes – owing to its growing unpopularity in certain parts of Canada in particular, such as Vancouver, where a large proportion of Chinese investor migrants had ended up, and where house prices were said to have soared as a result. 

Nevertheless, the attraction of large sums of money being brought into any country is often too great a temptation for many governments to ignore.