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UK immigration 'must not sell citizenship' say MPs

A committee of MPs has warned the UK's Coalition government against selling Tier 1 (Investor) visas at auction.

Last month, the government's independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) suggested that the government should auction off 100 'premium' investor visas each year with a reserve price of £2.5m each. These would allow their holders to qualify for UK citizenship within months.

But the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons urged the government to reject this advice. The committee met on Thursday 20th March 2014.

'The government must not sell citizenship to the highest bidder' - Vaz

The committee's chairman, Keith Vaz, said 'The Government must not sell citizenship to the highest bidder. This method has considerable benefits for the applicant but brings little benefit to the UK. We fail to see how this fits in with the Government's desire for the UK to attract only the "brightest and the best".'

Mr Vaz said 'Those who seek to acquire British citizenship should be fit and proper'. He said 'the lack of due diligence on individuals is a recipe for disaster'. In fact, the MAC report did stipulate that premium visa applicants would be subject to the usual due diligence requirements.

On 25th February, the MAC made its recommendations in a report published on 25th February. The report stated that the Tier 1 (Investor) visa is currently of questionable benefit to the UK.

Tier 1 (Investor) visa

The Tier 1 (Investor) visa allows wealthy people from outside the European Economic Area to apply for a UK residence visa if they invest £1m in a qualifying investment in the UK. The visa lasts initially for three year and four months and can be extended.

Those who invest £1m can apply for a UK permanent residence visa (known as Indefinite Leave to Remain or ILR) after five years. Those who invest £5m can apply after three years and those who invest £10m can apply after two years.

The MAC said that most people currently applying for the visa, about 500 people annually, invest £1m in UK government bonds for five years. The MAC said that this was of little benefit to the UK because the UK has no difficulty in selling its government bonds anyway.

Little evidence of active investing

There is also little evidence that many of those with Investor visas actually do any active investing in UK business and create jobs, according to the committee.

Committee chairman Professor David Metcalf told journalists at a press conference to mark the publication of the report said 'When people say 'Isn't it awful to sell visas', I reply that it is better than giving them away, which is what we're doing now'.

Professor Metcalf suggested that at least £50m a year of the money raised from auctioning the visas should go towards good causes.

'Little apparent ability to carry out due diligence'

But the Home Affairs Committee rejected the report's suggestions. The Committee warned that the proposals would mean that foreign nationals would be able to purchase citizenship leaving the UK with 'little apparent ability to carry out due diligence on the individual' and would impose 'no expectation to learn English and only require them to actually reside in the UK for 90 days a year'.

The Home Office is expected to respond to the MAC report within the next few months.

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