Multimillionaire foreigners prepared to invest their money in Britain will find it easier to make a home in the UK under government plans to relax immigration rules for the super-rich.
The Home Office will shortly propose changes to “investor visas” to encourage more rich people to live and invest in the UK.
The move comes as the government slashes foreign student numbers in an attempt to reduce yearly net migration to the “tens of thousands” – to the anger of universities reliant on income from overseas students.
The coalition has also cut the number of skilled workers British business can import from outside the European Union by one-fifth compared with last year. In addition, only 1,000 highly skilled workers without a job offer will be allowed to migrate to the UK, compared with 14,000 a year ago.
Under the proposals, which must be endorsed by parliament, wealthy migrants will from April only have to spend half a year in the country – against nine months under current rules – to qualify for a visa, and the wait for permanent residency will be dramatically cut for the wealthiest entrants.
The government, which has already exempted “high net worth individuals” and entrepreneurs from the new cap on non-European migration, is determined to increase the flow of wealthy immigrants. The UK attracts only a few hundred individuals each year on such grounds, compared with 3,000 for Canada.
Under the proposals, investors bringing in £10 million would qualify for permanent residency within two years. Individuals with at least £5 million would qualify in three and those with £1 million would qualify after five years. At present, anyone on an investor visa has to stay at least five years before being eligible.
One Whitehall insider said the incentives represented an obvious effort to bolster the economy, although those granted permanent residency would then be free to take their money out of the UK.
Julia Onslow-Cole, head of global immigration at PwC Legal, said the changes “should encourage ... high net worth families to move to the UK”. She added: “We have already seen significant interest in this new route from our clients.”
Those applying for an entrepreneur visa would also see restrictions eased. It is expected businesses will be allowed to bring in an extra employee from overseas in return for an additional investment of £50,000.
The relaxed rules might attract foreign nationals from politically unstable countries. Maurice Turnor Gardner, a law firm, said it had been contacted in the past fortnight by several Egyptian families wanting to apply for investor visas.