Inside Wealth

Rich Get 'Queue Easing' at UK Passport Checks

An armed British police officer patrols outside of Heathrow Airport as a passenger waits to check-in on in London, England.
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Airports have long had fast-track lines for first class passengers. But now Britain may be taking “wealth preference” to a whole new level – with accelerated passport control for higher-income businesspeople.

Press reports say that the U.K. Border Agency is developing a plan to fast-track passport lanes for wealthy travelers. The outgoing chief of the border force told politicians that "high-value" people who were considered beneficial to the British economy would be given priority at immigration control.

There was no dollar figure given for what qualifies as “high-value.” Billionaires, most likely, would get waived through, but mere millionaires might have to get to the back of the line.

Yet a Border Agency officials said the project was aimed at demonstrating that Britain is “open for business.”

In Britain, where the class wars continue to rage over taxes and bailouts, the plan for fast-tracking rich people has been met with a chilly reception.  Keith Vaz, a member of the House of Commons, press the outgoing chief whether the plan would give the super-rich easy entry into Britain. (Read more: Tax Cuts for Rich Don't Spur Economy)

Others pointed out that Britain has already loosened its immigration laws for the wealthy. Overseas "super-investors" who are willing to keep $8 million in a British bank account can stay indefinitely in Britain after three years – two years faster than other immigrants.

It’s easy to criticize the plan as just another political bow to the rich – proof that the system is rigged against the everyman in favor the few, and that wealth (like airport lines) is a zero-sum game. Their gain is everyone else’s loss. (Read more: Does Quantitative Easing Mostly Help the Rich?)

Yet “people of value” are unlikely to be that numerous. And at a time when Britain and other countries need investment and spending, rolling out the red carpet (or at least a faster line on the carpet) can’t be such a bad thing.

-By CNBC's Robert Frank
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