Palace in London
Kensington Gardens is also known as “Billionaire’s Row” because many wealthy foreigners live in villas.
Image: working pressure
London London is so popular with wealthy Russians that the British capital is nicknamed Moscow on the Times. For years, oligarchs have used the UK’s lax money-laundering controls to divert their sometimes illegally acquired assets into real estate and other investments. They are rewarded for this with a ‘Golden Visa’, which gives them the right to reside in Great Britain.
That must change now. In light of the deployment of Russian troops to the border with Ukraine, the British government now wants to take action. On Thursday, Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was halting the investor visa program with “immediate effect”. This move is directed against “corrupt elites who endanger our national security and throw dirty money into our cities.”
Since 2008, foreigners who have invested at least £2 million in Great Britain have been granted a residence permit. After five years, this can be converted into a permanent residence permit. Anyone who has brought ten million pounds into the country can apply for a job after only two years.
According to the BBC, more than 2,500 Russian citizens have obtained such “golden visas”. The program has been criticized for years. Several parliamentary investigative reports concluded that it facilitated money laundering.
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The government has already tightened award criteria several times – most recently after the poison gas attack in Salisbury, England, in 2018, when undercover Russian agents attempted to poison double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia, who lived there. Since then, foreign investors have had to have a UK bank account and prove the source of their wealth.
The new golden visa regulation is still pending
But even after that, hundreds of visas are still issued. A number of industries in London benefit from dealing with wealthy foreigners, including bankers, fund managers, brokers, lawyers, PR firms and private schools. That is why it has not been looked at closely to this day.
It remains to be seen in detail what the new investor visa regulations will look like. According to Patel, future visas will be granted based on whether the investor is creating jobs and realizing economic benefits. It shouldn’t suffice to buy a property or a stock portfolio with millions. In addition to Russians, wealthy Chinese will be particularly affected.
The government’s sudden impulsiveness is due to the mounting pressure in the Ukraine crisis. True, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the US government have so far made their strongest remark against the Kremlin. But as long as the accusation was that London welcomed the oligarchy with open arms, the outrage did not seem credible.
Now the relationship with Russia must be fundamentally reconsidered. Defense Secretary James Hebby told the BBC that everything that had been normal in British-Russian relations over the past 30 years was now being tested.
The announcement of investor visas was welcomed in Parliament. “Great news,” Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Tugendhat tweeted. The governor has been one of the harshest critics of the visa program.
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