Home Office sources have told the Observer that ministers believe there may need to be further restrictions on the issuing of visas to overseas investors. This follows a decade when hundreds of well-connected Russians, including several prominent businessmen, have been allowed to make the UK their home in return for investing at least £1m.
It comes at the end of a week when Theresa May said the government had concluded that two officers from the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU, were responsible for the poisoning in March of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, an act she said was almost certainly approved “at a senior level of the Russian state”.
The Home Office is conducting a review of tier 1 UK investor visas, the use of which was heavily curtailed three years ago amid concerns they were being issued to people whose wealth origin was questionned.
Under the changes introduced in 2015, which included raising the investment requirement to £2m, applicants could be asked to confirm the origins of their wealth, something that saw a substantial tailing off in approved applications.
A Home Office spokesman declined to comment on the review’s findings. But it is understood that the Home Office believes a further shake-up of the visa system may now be necessary as tensions between the Kremlin and London continue to rise.
A Home Office source confirmed that the review, the third in four years, extends back to 2008, when the tier 1 scheme was introduced under the Labour government, which means it involves scrutinising in excess of 3,000 visas, more than 700 of them issued to Russian investors.
The source said: “We are reviewing all tier 1 [investor] visas granted before 5 April 2015, some of which are issued to wealthy Russians. We have not ruled out making further changes to the tier 1 investor route in order to ensure that it continues to work in the national interest.
One prominent oligarch who appears to have already fallen foul of the clampdown is the Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, who withdrew his application for a new visa as relations between the UK and Russia soured.