Cacy-Leigh Neilson, Ross Meadows and Simon Walsh 2 Jan 2019 12:37pm

Investor visa changes – what you need to know

At the end of 2018, the government announced that it would suspend controversial "gold-plated visas" but then appeared to change it mind. Cacy-Leigh Neilson, Ross Meadows and Simon Walsh from law firm Oury Clark explain what is happening with Tier 1 Investor Visas

Caption: What will the implications of changes to the Tier 1 Investor Visa be?

On the 6th December 2018, the Home Office announced that the Tier 1 Investor Visa was to be suspended with effect from the 7th December while the Home Office presented changes to the Immigration Rules with significant reforms to the Investor visa route. The Home Office appeared to do a U-turn and later reported that this visa type had not been suspended, and they could not indicate if or when any suspension would happen. Whilst this visa route has not been suspended the potential implications are far-reaching to say the least.

The investor route, otherwise known as the “gold-plated visa”, is used by high net worth individuals wishing to enter and invest in the UK. However, it is often associated with concerns about its potential use for organised crime and money laundering. The proposed suspension is thought to have come in to clamp down on those who abuse the system and to ensure investors who legitimately intend to support UK businesses will benefit from the investor visa route in the future. Whether any proposed changes are intended to send a political message to Russia, China and the super-rich or not, it is clear the government is committed to reforming and implementing serious changes to this “gold-plated visa” route.

The Investor visa is currently subject to anti-money laundering checks and the anti-money laundering regulations introduced over the last few years already include more stringent requirements and checks.

So what does the government aim to accomplish with the new reforms? Currently the Investor visa assists those with access to a minimum of £2m to invest in the UK, needing only to evidence the source of funds for three months prior to the date of application, whereas the proposed reforms will require applicants to evidence being in control of the £2m investment funds for at least two years, as well as evidencing comprehensive audits of their financial and business interests. Furthermore, applicants will no longer be able to invest in government bonds, and must invest in active and trading UK companies. This throws up a host of questions in relation to how you demonstrate that the “value” of the portfolio is being adequately maintained at £2m or above.

The Home Office has not subsequently commented if or when the suspension of the Investor visa will happen, or how much notice applicants and their legal advisers will get if it does. Law is supposed to be “certain” and the current environment is far from certain. The Home Office’s lack of concrete advice and clarity is contrary to the fundamental principles of the rule of law; certainty and stability. The Home Office’s uncertainty and indecisiveness makes it extremely difficult for legal advisers to support and accurately advise their clients which could adversely affect a client’s perception of our capabilities and knowledge as legal professionals.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg! In addition to the possible suspension of the Tier 1 Investor visa, the immigration minister Caroline Nokes has indicated further changes and new measures to other visas, which include introducing a “start-up” visa, scrapping the Tier 1 entrepreneur route and replacing it with an “innovator” visa with more emphasis on the applicant being endorsed by a business sponsor who will be required to assess the applicants’ innovation and viability, as well as technical changes to Tier 2 and minor changes to Tier 5. This is all in addition to the Immigration White Paper setting out (at a high level only) proposed post-Brexit changes.

The Home Office has indicated some changes will be introduced in April 2019, and therefore for those who are preparing to submit applications under the current visa rules, it is recommended that applications be finalised as early as possible in the New Year. Unfortunately the lack of transparency by the Home Office is very disappointing when individuals and businesses alike have the continued uncertainty on top of the Brexit uncertainty. A pro-active approach with advance notice of any proposed Immigration rule changes would be welcomed.

Cacy-Leigh Neilson is a trainee solicitor and Ross Meadows and Simon Walsh are partners in the Employment and Business Immigration Team at Oury Clark