Why has the United Kingdom closed the Tier 1 Investor Visa for new applicants?
On 17 February 2022, the Home Office decided to shut the Tier 1 (Investor) Visa route with effect from GMT 16:00 hours, 17 February 2022 for all new applicants. Any new application received after this time will be considered void. This route allowed the applicants to enter, stay in, and eventually settle in the UK with any eligible family members if they invested at least £2 million in shares or loan capital in active and trading UK registered companies. This route also allowed quick settlement to applicants in just 2 or 3 years for those who invested £10 million or £5 million respectively compared to a 5-year route to settlement for those who invested £2 million. After 12 months from the date of settlement, it was possible to apply for British Citizenship subject to meeting the relevant requirements.
It is standard practice that the Home Office publishes the Statements of Changes to the Immigration Rules before closing any visa route so that immigration law practitioners, prospective applicants, and migrants who are already in the UK under said route can make the necessary arrangements. However, on this occasion, the Home Office took the unprecedented decision to close the Tier 1 (Investor) Visa route without any prior warning.
According to the Home Office’s statement published on 17 February 2022, the route was closed over ‘security concerns. It further states that ‘some cases’ had given rise to such concerns, including people acquiring their wealth illegitimately and being associated with wider corruption. Home Secretary Priti Patel stated:
“I have zero tolerance for abuse of our immigration system. Under my New Plan for Immigration, I want to ensure the British people have confidence in the system, including stopping corrupt elites who threaten our national security and push dirty money around our cities.”
“Closing this route is just the start of our renewed crackdown on fraud and illicit finance. We will be publishing a fraud action plan, while the forthcoming Economic Crime Bill will crackdown on people abusing our financial institutions and better protect the taxpayer.”
Furthermore, according to the statement, the route, which was introduced in 2008, was under constant review of the Home Office, who further referred to the findings of their review of all Tier 1 Investor visas granted from 2008 to 5 April 2015 which will be published in due course.
It is clear that the purpose of the closure of the route is concern over national security, abuses of the route, and particularly, stopping corrupt people who bring dirty money to the UK. However, similar routes are still available in other countries of the world. Most importantly, such routes have always been criticised as it allows millionaires to buy citizenship, and there has been always concern regarding the sources of such funds of nationals of certain countries. However, it took over 13 years for the UK to close the route since its introduction in 2008 – although Sir David Metcalf, the chairman of the UK government’s Migration Advisory Committee, described the Tier 1 (Investor) Visa as ‘not fit for purpose’ in 2015. Even after closing the route, the government has been heavily criticised for closing the route without prior warning. The Immigration Law Practitioner’s Association (ILPA) has accused Home Secretary Priti Patel of ‘undermining democratic procedures of accountability and any sense of legal certainty, stability and predictability’ and called for a 21-day grace period to avoid any unfairness to the applicants who were close to submission at the time of the route’s closure. ILPA member and Director of A Y & J Solicitors Yash Dubal told investment migration knowledge platform, Invest Migration Insider (IMI):
“…Genuine investors who planned their move many months in advance now face a hard stop through no fault on their own. The decision to close the route without any consultation, warning or notice is autocratic.”
There is no doubt that firms who received instructions from clients for Tier 1 (Investor) visas and carried out work in light of their instructions potentially could face difficulties if a grace period is not given or a viable transitional arrangement is not announced by the Home Office.
It is still possible to bring family members and to extend one’s stay and settle under this route until 17 February 2026 and 17 February 2028 depending on the amount invested. However, in addition to the closure of the route for the new applicants, the route is also being reformed to prevent abuse, and it has been indicated by the Home Office that settlement will now be ‘conditional’ on ‘genuine job creation’ and other ‘tangible economic impacts’, and investments in UK companies will no longer be enough to obtain settlement. Furthermore, the Home Office plans to make reforms to the Innovator route to provide an investment route.