Number of wealthy investors obtaining visas to stay in UK rockets

03 Dec 2012 | 09:54 am | 2 min. read

The number of wealthy foreign investors issued with specialist ‘investor visas’ allowing them to stay in the UK has rocketed in the past year, according to international law firm Pinsent Masons.

  • 78% rise in 2012
  • Russians and Chinese head the list
  • Rise in Iranians moving to the UK

The number of wealthy foreign investors issued with specialist ‘investor visas’ allowing them to stay in the UK has rocketed in the past year, according to international law firm Pinsent Masons.

The number of investor visas issued has shot up from 235 in 2010-11 (year ending 30 June) to 419 in 2011-12, an increase of 78%.

Pinsent Masons explain that investor visas were first introduced in 2008 and allow high net worth foreign individuals, with at least £1 million to invest, to remain in the UK on a long term basis. Investor visas are seen as a fast track for wealthy foreign nationals, and their children, to become British citizens.  

Russian investors formed the biggest group in 2011-12, representing 24% of all successful applicants. China (23% of issued visas) and the United States (5%) were the next most common country of origin.

Simon Horsfield, the head of Pinsent Masons' business immigration team says: “The UK, and London in particular, remains hugely attractive to wealthy individuals from around the globe. Foreign nationals still see London as an expat friendly gateway to Europe.”

“London offers both political stability and a very transparent legal system. Investors see prime property in the capital as a very attractive and liquid asset. Prime property prices in London have remained stable or even increased despite the global downturn, which is a real lure for High Net Worths.”

Applications from Russia for UK investor visas nearly doubled from 65 in 2010-11 to 121 in 2012.  

Simon Horsfield comments: “Many are keen to educate their children in the UK, while the prestige of owning London property and a burgeoning Russian expat community mean that London will be an increasingly popular destination for wealthy Russian emigrants. Continued uncertainties over how independent the Judiciary is in Russia mean that it’s important for many Russian businessmen to have second homes in London.”  

He adds: “The City’s established and well regulated wealth management sector makes investing in the UK a relatively straight forward process. Many also find the tax structure for expats far more competitive than other established financial centres.”

Successful applications from China for UK investor visas also shot up from 39 in 2010-11 to 95 in 2011-12.

Says Simon Horsfield: “Affluent Chinese entrepreneurs are also keen to get visas for the UK. For them the attractions of London range from its world class education system for their children through to a refuge, if they ever need it, from unpredictable local politics and judiciary. ”  

Pinsent Masons points out that there has also been an increase in the number of successful visas issued to Iranian investors from five in 2010-11 to twelve in 2011-12.

Simon Horsfield says: “There are signs that sanctions imposed on Iran and political instability in Egypt is also benefitting the UK – for example the numbers of successful investor migrants from Iran have doubled over the last year.”

“It’s likely that even more wealthy individuals from Egypt or Libya have opted to move to the UAE region – which also offers plenty of safe havens – for the time being. If it weren’t for these neighbouring safe havens the number of High Net Worth emigrants from North African or Arab spring nations would certainly be higher.”

UK Government crackdown on visas for non-EU nationals

Pinsent Masons add that another influence on the figures could be that other opportunities for gaining UK visas are becoming more restricted, which makes the investor visa a more popular option.

Simon Horsfield says: “Successive rule changes have made gaining access to the UK very difficult for non-EU migrants. Wealthy entrepreneurs have been funnelled towards investor visas as a result.”

“For wealthy individuals, the criteria for the visa are very easy to meet. They’re essentially a fast-track for migrants who have money and are keen to invest in UK businesses.”

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