The UK issued almost 150 so-called golden visas for wealthy foreign investors, including several Russians, weeks before the programme was scrapped on security grounds before the start of the war in Ukraine.
The Tier 1 investor visa route for new applicants of all nationalities with “immediate effect” was shut down by the UK government on February 17, a week before the Russian invasion.
Analysis by the PA news agency of Home Office figures reveals that 149 visas had already been issued in the first quarter of this year, with 18 granted to Russian applicants and 41 to Chinese applicants.
The visa programme was launched in 2008, with those eligible needing to have at least £2 million ($2.5m) in investment funds in active and trading UK registered companies as well as a UK bank account.
Successful applicants were able to work or study in the UK for up to five years and apply to settle in the country after making further investments.
The announcement to close the programme came amid concerns over Moscow’s influence in the UK as tension rose over the impending conflict in Ukraine.
The visas had been under review over fears the system could be exploited because not enough background checks were carried out on applicants.
At the time, the Home Office said some cases had “given rise to security concerns, including people acquiring their wealth illegitimately and being associated with wider corruption”.
Former minister Chris Bryant previously claimed the government was handing out golden visas to “dodgy Russian oligarchs” and said the system was used as a “backdoor loophole” to funnel dirty money into the UK, while anti-corruption group Global Witness accused the UK of turning away those most in need of asylum but rolling out the red carpet for oligarchs.
Nearly one million visas were issued in the 12 months to March 2022 to people coming to the UK for work, study or to reunite with family, or through one of the government’s settlement projects.
About 277,069 work visas were granted, along with 471,802 study visas and 42,141 family visas, plus 7,167 visas for dependents joining or accompanying others.
In addition, 27,979 were issued under the Ukraine visa programmes, 86,750 were granted to British National (Overseas) status holders from Hong Kong, 51,148 were granted under the EU Settlement Scheme and 2,820 were granted under other settlement programmes.
The combined total of 966,876 visas is the third successive record high for a 12-month period since figures began to be recorded in 2005.
“The government has delivered on its promise to the British people to take back control of our immigration system,” said a Home Office spokeswoman.
“As we move out of the pandemic, these statistics show our global points-based system is working.”
Separate figures show that as of Monday, 60,100 people had arrived in the UK under Ukraine visa programmes.
As of Tuesday, about 135,600 applications had been made for visas, with 115,000 now issued.