Home Of­fice in ‘golden visa’ climb­down

Lat­est em­bar­rass­ment for strug­gling depart­ment comes af­ter threat of le­gal chal­lenge

The Star (St. Lucia) - Business Week - - FRONT PAGE - ROBERT WRIGHT IN LONDON

The UK Home Of­fice has re­versed a de­ci­sion to sus­pend its so-called “golden visa” pro­gramme of­fer­ing fast track set­tle­ment to in­vestors less than a week af­ter an­nounc­ing it would close the scheme over con­cerns about money-laun­der­ing

The UK Home Of­fice has re­versed a de­ci­sion to sus­pend its so-called “golden visa” pro­gramme of­fer­ing fast track set­tle­ment to in­vestors less than a week af­ter an­nounc­ing it would close the scheme over con­cerns about money-laun­der­ing.

The sur­prise re­ver­sal on Tues­day came af­ter the depart­ment re­ceived a let­ter from a group of im­mi­gra­tion lawyers warn­ing it that the sus­pen­sion of the Tier 1 in­vestor visa was il­le­gal and would lead to a le­gal chal­lenge.

The climb­down is the lat­est em­bar­rass­ment for a depart­ment that has suf­fered con­sid­er­able rep­u­ta­tional dam­age this year be­cause of its role in the Win­drush scan­dal over the treat­ment of long­stand­ing Com­mon­wealth im­mi­grants to the UK.

The depart­ment has also been forced to ad­mit that it im­prop­erly de­manded DNA tests from some ap­pli­cants for visas and pass­ports to prove their el­i­gi­bil­ity, fol­low­ing rev­e­la­tions in the Fi­nan­cial Times, and has an­nounced a widerang­ing re­view of the func­tion­ing of the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem.

In a state­ment the Home Of­fice said the Tier 1 (In­vestor) visa was “not cur­rently sus­pended”. But it went on: “We re­main com­mit­ted to re­form­ing the route.”

It added that a fur­ther an­nounce­ment would be made “in due course”.

The depart­ment de­clined to ex­plain why it had changed course so soon af­ter the an­nounce­ment on Thurs­day by Caro­line Nokes, im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter, that no new ap­pli­ca­tions would be ac­cepted un­der the pro­gramme, which would be sus­pended from mid­night on Fri­day.

How­ever, the Im­mi­gra­tion Law Prac­ti­tion­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (ILPA) con­firmed that it had writ­ten to the Home Of­fice af­ter Thurs­day’s an­nounce­ment and warned of the po­ten­tial con­se­quences of the sus­pen­sion. The let­ter com­plained that the depart­ment had not fol­lowed usual prac­tice and given those in­volved 28 days’ no­tice of up­com­ing changes, nor had it pub­lished the new rules.

ILPA said it was “ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed” by the abrupt change. “The sit­u­a­tion in our view makes a mock­ery of the prin­ci­ples of cer­tainty and sta­bil­ity that are in­her­ent in the rule of law,” it said.

Nick Rol­la­son, head of im­mi­gra­tion at Kings­ley Nap­ley, a London-based law firm, said it was “pretty con­cern­ing” how the an­nounce­ment and its re­ver­sal had come about.

“The gov­ern­ment shouldn’t be an­nounc­ing that things are go­ing to be sus­pended when they don’t have ready the le­gal in­stru­ment to do that,” Mr Rol­la­son said.

The Tier 1 in­vestor visa has been con­tro­ver­sial be­cause of con­cerns it might be mak­ing it eas­ier for cor­rupt busi­ness fig­ures and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to laun­der money through the UK. Un­der the pro­gramme, for­eign na­tion­als who in­vest £2m or more in the UK can ap­ply for per­ma­nent res­i­dence af­ter five years. Those who in­vest up­wards of £5m can ap­ply af­ter three years, while those in­vest­ing £10m or more wait only two years.

The scheme is par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar with Chinese and Rus­sian na­tion­als and has faced in­tense scru­tiny af­ter the UK’s re­la­tions with Rus­sia de­te­ri­o­rated in the wake of the ap­par­ent poisoning of Sergei Skri­pal, a for­mer Rus­sian agent, and his daugh­ter Yu­lia, in Sal­is­bury in March. Left­over poi­son from the in­ci­dent has been blamed for the death in July of Dawn Sturgess, a Bri­tish woman who was ap­par­ently exposed to novi­chok, the agent im­pli­cated in the in­ci­dent.

ILPA’s let­ter warned the Home

Of­fice that the an­nounce­ment would dis­ad­van­tage peo­ple who had al­ready taken steps — such as pur­chas­ing prop­erty — in con­nec­tion with ap­pli­ca­tions un­der the scheme. It pledged to launch a le­gal chal­lenge if the depart­ment failed to re­scind the planned changes.

“The gov­ern­ment shouldn’t be an­nounc­ing that things are go­ing to be sus­pended when they don’t have ready the le­gal in­stru­ment to do that,” Mr Rol­la­son said.

The UK Home Of­fice made an abrupt about-face an­nounc­ing that the Tier 1 Visa pro­gramme will be re­formed, not sus­pended, as orig­i­nally stated

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