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What to know about the 'golden visa' that got Nirav Modi entry into UK

BS Web Team/New Delhi 15 Mar 19 | 10:32 AM

Nirav Modi

Fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi entered the UK on a ‘golden visa’, issued on his Indian passport, sources from the UK government informed Times of India. Modi fled India in January 2018, days before Rs 13,000 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam broke. He was able to travel in and out of Britain at least four times since his passport was cancelled by the Indian authorities in February 2018.

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Nirav Modi, whose whereabouts remained a mystery, was spotted in London where, as per reports, he has been living for several months now. A UK media report said that he had been discovered living openly in a swanky 8-million pound apartment in London's West End and is running a new diamond business just yards away.

Modi, 48, was tracked down to a three-bedroom flat occupying half of a floor of the landmark Centre Point tower block of luxury apartments, where rent is estimated to be around 17,000 pounds a month, 'The Daily Telegraph' reported.

What is a 'golden visa'?

Golden visa or tier 1 visas provide a faster route for wealthy investors coming from outside the European Union and Switzerland to settle in Britain.

The program was introduced in 2008 to attract wealthy foreign nationals willing to invest large amounts of capital in Britain. Billions of pounds have poured into London over the past decade, following an influx of global elites who have benefited from the program. Applicants cannot invest in companies engaged in property investment.

Spouse and dependent children can also apply for residency under the Tier 1 investor visa.

Immigration through investment into the UK through investment in Tier 1 is an attractive investment visa programmes.

The cost of getting a 'golden visa'

To qualify, foreign nationals must put down a minimum of around $2.5 million as an investment in Britain. Such an investment in United Kingdom bonds, share capital or companies allows investors to apply for permanent residency within five years.

A golden visa allows a person to work, study or set up a business in the UK. The one-time £2 million invesmtent has to remain invested for five years before a visa holder becomes eligible for permanent resident. But this process can be accelerated if more money is invested. 

For a £5 million investment, they can apply for permanent residency after three years.

An investment of £10 million can open the door to permanent residency after two years. There is no direct UK citizenship by the investment programme.

Criticism of 'golden visa'

Earlier this year, European Union urged member states to crack down on schemes to grant "golden visas" to foreign investors, warning they bring corruption and money laundering in their wake.

In October last year, Berlin-based Transparency International and London-based Global Witness called EU citizenship and residency as "just like a luxury good" which "can be bought".

"By their very nature, golden visa schemes are an attractive prospect for the criminal and the corrupt," they wrote in the report entitled "European Getaway: Inside the Murky World of Golden Visas".

Wealthy candidates for residency or citizenship do not face sufficient security and background checks to prevent them from posing a security risk or laundering money, according to the report.

UK government's u-turn on 'golden visa'

The UK government had in December 2018, decided to put on hold plans to suspend "golden visa" category in reference to its use by super-rich foreign nationals, including Indians, to acquire fast-track settlement rights in Britain. However, the government said that the plans are on hold, without an explanation behind the decision.

"The Tier 1 (Investor) visa is not currently suspended, however, we remain committed to reforming the route. A further announcement will be made in due course," a Home Office spokesperson said in December 2018.

Nirav Modi's new business in London:

According to a report by Telegraph, Modi is now believed to be running a new business which describes itself on the UK's Companies House register as a wholesale trader in watches and jewellery and a retailer of watches and jewellery in specialised stores.

While Modi is not listed as a named director of this new business, the UK media report claims he was seen walking his dog from his flat to the new office.

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