The UK’s New and Improved Tier-1 Visa Programme – (Effective May 2019)
The UK recently ‘repaired’ its Tier-1 high net worth investor visa programme in a direct response to European lawmakers criticizing “golden visa” programmes in a number of countries, including the UK, for facilitating money laundering.
› Statement of Changes to the Tier-1 Investor Immigration Rules
- Going Forward … Applicants will now need to have held their investment funds of £2 million for a minimum period of two (2) years prior to the date of their application. Previously, this period had been three (3) months.
- Going Forward … Where the funds have not been held for a period of two (2) years, applicants will be compelled to demonstrate the source of their funds. Therefore, additional documentation will need to be provided as a due diligence exercise in order to verify the source of these funds.Applicants will need to provide an affirmation from their UK bank to establish that the bank has carried out its relevant due diligence checks on the applicant and the source of their funds.Previously, applicants were only required to show that they held a UK bank account. The Home Office will now be able to refuse a Tier-1 application where there are reasonable grounds to believe that funds have been obtained illegally or transferred to the United Kingdom unlawfully.
- Going Forward … Applicants will no longer be able to invest their funds in UK government bonds. The reason behind this change is that it has long been considered that such investments do not contribute any meaningful economic benefits to the UK.
- Going Forward … Applicants who wish to invest their funds in ‘active and trading UK companies’ will need to show that the company is genuinely trading and has a substantial presence in the United Kingdom.Previously companies must have:
- had a registered office or head office in the UK;
- had a UK bank account showing current business transactions; and
- been subject to UK taxation.
However, the definition now states that an “active and trading UK registered company” must:
- be registered with Companies House in the UK;
- be registered with HM Revenue and Customs for corporation tax and PAYE;
- have accounts and a UK business bank account, both showing regular trading of its own goods or services; and
- have at least two UK-based employees who are not its directors.
The Home Office confirms that the intention of this rule change is to allow it to seek further assurances, only where an investment into a company gives particular cause for concern around its genuineness as an active and trading UK entity.
The Home Office further confirms that, where an entity has a publicly verifiable status as a major listed UK company, with nationally significant operations of the sort seen in blue chip companies, it is very unlikely to request further evidence to show that it is active and trading.
Going Forward … provided that: the listed company is registered with Companies House in the UK; it is not undertaking an activity which is prohibited under the Tier-1 (Investor) immigration rules, such as investing in property; and if it does not have employees itself, clearly has employees in other companies within the structure, it will be deemed to be a qualifying investment under the UK immigration rules.
› Impact of changes to the Tier-1 investor route
In short, only legitimate and genuine applicants who wish to secure residence in the UK on the basis of their investments need apply for the Investor Visa.
The Home Office’s concerns regarding the background of certain Tier-1 applicants and the source of their funds are meant to be addressed by these changes, all the while ensuring that the UK is protected against financial crime and that the investments will hopefully have a greater economic benefit to the UK.
Statement of Changes to the Tier 1 (Investor) Rules (Effective 01 OCT 2019)
A new Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules was published on 09 September 2019. All the while some amendments are minor in nature they remain nevertheless important and therefore worthy of mention.
Investments in Government Bonds (gilts)
Tier 1 (Investor) applicants who submitted their visa/residence permit application before 29 March 2019 are able to invest in gilts but they must extend by 05 April 2023 and apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) by 05 April 2025.
For applications made after these dates, gilts will no longer count as qualifying investments.
- It has now been clarified that where the applicant’s initial grant of leave as a Tier 1 (Investor) was under the Rules before 29 March 2019 (i.e. when one can still invest in gilts), and the date of the extension application is on or after 06 April 2023, the applicant cannot rely on investments that were held in gilts on or after 06 April 2023.
- In other words, if an applicant were to apply for an extension on or after 06 April 2023, the investments must be moved to other qualifying investments (e.g. share / loan capital of an active and trading UK registered company) on or before 05 April 2023. If not, the applicant will not be able to rely on their investment to extend the visa in the future.
- Similarly, where the initial grant of leave was before 29 March 2019, and the date of the ILR application is on or after 06 April 2025, the applicant cannot rely on investments that were held in gilts on or after 06 April 2025. The investments must be moved to other qualifying investments on or before 05 April 2025.
The practical consequences of the above is that if you are under the pre 29 March 2019 Rules who has invested in gilts, and you intend to keep extending your visa in the future (e.g. you have no intention to apply for ILR or cannot do so due to the residence requirements), the you will then need to ensure your investment has been moved to other qualifying investments on or before 05 April 2023.
£1 million investment top-up
In relation to the £1m investor clients (i.e. those who applied for an Investor visa under the Rules in place before 06 November 2014), they must extend before 06 April 2020 and apply for ILR before 06 April 2022.
It has now been clarified that where you need to apply for an extension on or after the cut-off date of 06 April 2020 (and will therefore need to top-up to at least £2 million), the remaining balance of the £2 million investment must have been made before the date of the application and be shown in the most recent portfolio report.
In other words, if you have recently extended your visa (say September 2019 and the visa should then be valid until September 2021), you will have until September 2021 to top-up and re-structure your investment subject to your usual reporting cycle.
The £1m investor clients can choose to top-up their investment by investing in gilts, so long as their extension / ILR application is submitted on or before 05 April 2023 / 2025 as appropriate.
However, do be cautioned that if you are extending on or after 06 April 2023 you can no longer rely on investments in gilts and would need to amend your investment before this date.
The Home Office Policy team has not amended the Rules for ILR for clients topping up from £1 million to £2 million.
- This means where a £1 million investor client cannot apply for ILR before 06 April 2022, time spent under the £1 million investment would be fully disregarded for the purposes of ILR.
- Only time spent with the investment at the £2 million level will count towards ILR.
- There is a risk therefore that many investors who are in the UK under the pre 06 November 2014 route and unable to apply for ILR due to excessive absences will need to start the 5-year qualifying period of residence again from when they top up to £2 million and therefore may want to top up as soon as possible.
In 2014, there were 1,172 applications approved, but in 2015, this dropped to 192 applications. In 2018, there were 374 applications approved and there were 255 applications granted in the first half of 2019. Therefore, although the number of applications has increased slightly in recent years, they are nowhere near 2014 levels, which proved to have been an exceptional year.