The Immigration Law Practitioner’s Association (ILPA), an influential group of barristers, lawyers, and immigration advocates in the UK, has accused Home Secretary Priti Patel of “undermining democratic procedures of accountability and any sense of legal certainty, stability, and predictability”. The criticism follows last week’s Home Office decision to close the UK Investor Visa route without warning.
In a scathing letter, the ILPA described how members were blindsided by the Home Secretary’s decision to close the Investor route, lamenting that its members had received no advance notice and that there was no formal public consultation about the cancellation of the route. Normally, changes to the Immigration Rules require a 21-day consultation period.
The ILPA’s letter pointed out that “a Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules was published online suddenly on 17 February 2022 at 4:04pm and took effect four minutes earlier at 4:00pm on that same day.”
Six days earlier, immigration lawyers had received details of planned changes to the points-based visa system, though no mention was made of any proposed closure of the Investor Visa route’.
Cited eight-year-old evidence of “dirty” money problem
“This is a sudden decision to close a long-established route, which has existed since 1994 and was brought within the points-based system in 2008,” continued the ILPA’s letter. “It underwent an extensive review in 2014, and your department was committed to its reform in 2015 and 2019.”
The Investor visa allowed applicants with £2m to invest in the UK to settle in the country. Patel’s Home Office has characterized the program as a potential route for Russian oligarchs to bring “dirty” money into the UK. In December 2018, a decision to suspend the visa with less than 24 hours’ notice was reversed after a legal challenge.
The letter complained that one piece of evidence provided to justify the decision was eight years old, while a yet-to-be-published review cited as further evidence only referred to a handful of visas granted before the 2015 reform ‘and thus has little import for current applicants under the reformed rules’.
The ILPA also highlighted an Intelligence and Security Committee report in July 2020 which recommended an overhaul of the visa process with a stricter approval process, but which did not recommend the route’s closure.
“Thus,” continued to ILPA, “we cannot understand why this change is being made without any prior notice in February 2022, many years subsequent to the information upon which you rely.”
While the organization accepted concerns that the route could be used to move illicitly obtained wealth into the UK, it criticised what it called ‘reactionary rule-making, undertaken without consultation and in contravention of convention’ and claimed the Home Secretary’s actions undermined any opportunity for Parliamentary scrutiny.
Several ILPA members, which include immigration solicitors, barristers, academics, and NGOs, have clients “unconnected to any security concerns or abuse” who were in the process of applying for an Investor visa. There are no similar alternatives.
Calling or 21-day grace period
“There is a real human impact in the closure of any route, particularly when there is no alternative,” explained the letter.
ILPA member Yash Dubal, Director of immigration specialists A Y & J Solicitors said: “There is wide support for the letter, mainly to respect the democratic process. Genuine investors who planned their move many months in advance now face a hard stop through no fault of their own. The decision to close the route without any consultation, warning or notice is autocratic.”
The Home Office justified the immediate closure as a way to prevent an anticipated “closing down sale” effect.
The ILPA is now calling on Patel for a 21-day grace period for applications to be submitted and processed “to avoid any unfairness to applicants who were close to submission at the time of the route’s closure”. It also wants assurances that cases currently under consideration will be assessed fairly and that future substantive changes follow protocol and are announced at least 21 days before they take effect.