Eight Russian oligarchs subject to sanction by the UK over their links to President Vladimir Putin since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had been granted so-called golden visas, the government has revealed.
The Tier 1 “investor visa” route — which was abolished last month — in the past has attracted wealthy Russian and other international investors, who have resettled in the UK under the scheme.
To qualify for investor visas, people had to show they had at least £2mn to invest in the UK. The rules were tightened up in 2015 and checks on how applicants obtained their money were introduced.
In answer to a parliamentary question this week, Lady Williams of Trafford, a Home Office minister, disclosed that on 18 March eight oligarchs under UK sanctions “had been identified as holding or having held leave as a Tier 1 (investor) migrant or as a Tier 1 (investor) migrant dependent”.
The Home Office would not disclose the identities of the eight Russians. Parliament’s intelligence and security committee warned in 2020 that “the exploitation of the UK’s investor visa scheme” was a draw for many Russians seeking to enter the country.
It said Britain had provided “ideal mechanisms” for the recycling of illicit finance, adding it had become an international “laundromat” for offshore wealth.
In 2018, then home secretary Amber Rudd asked officials to review the basis on which more than 700 wealthy Russians were allowed to settle in the UK under the scheme. After years of delay, the government still has not published the review.
The government issued 798 investor visas in the 12 months to September 2021. Of these 82 were awarded to Russians.
Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson, said: “For too long the government has rolled out the red carpet for Putin’s cronies. These people should never have been able to buy their way into the UK with ill-gotten wealth.”
Moran added: “We now need to know how many others who were given golden visas owe their wealth to Putin’s regime, and why the government hasn’t sanctioned them too.”
Are you personally affected by the War in Ukraine? We want to hear from you
Are you from Ukraine? Do you have friends and family in or from Ukraine whose lives have been upended? Or perhaps you’re doing something to help those individuals, such as fundraising or housing people in your own homes. We want to hear from you. Tell us via a short survey.
She urged ministers to “stop dragging their feet” and finally publish the review into the visa scheme.
Dr Susan Hawley, executive director of Spotlight on Corruption, a campaign group, said: “Once again we are seeing how the golden visa scheme made the UK vulnerable to national security threats and dirty money. Today’s revelations are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.”
She echoed Moran’s calls for an urgent review of golden visas, adding: “[The government] also needs to be fully transparent about what action it has taken, how many visas it has revoked as a result of this review, and whether it has reviewed any citizenship granted.”
A Home Office spokesperson said they did not routinely comment on individual cases. “However, we want to make it clear that the UK is no safe haven for dirty money or those that enable the Putin regime. By implementing the largest and strongest sanctions package in the UK’s history, we are continuing to crack down on any individuals with links to the Putin regime and it is right that they pay the price.”