Abramovich - a Russian tale

04 June 2018
It has been difficult to avoid reading about Roman Abramovich in the media recently. He is more famous than other Russian billionaires based in the UK because he owns Chelsea football club.

It has been widely reported that he holds - or, at any rate, held - a Tier 1 Investor visa, and it was also widely reported that he had applied for a new visa (we presume that this would have been a Tier 1 Investor extension visa) but that the application was taking “longer than usual” to be processed by the Home Office. It was suggested that this might be something to do with the fact that he is, apparently, good friends with President Putin of Russia.

Russian Government sources hastened to assure us that there was no doubt some sort of political dodgy dealing by HM Government in connection with the “longer than usual” visa processing.

And - horror of horrors - it was suggested that Mr Abramovich may have missed Chelsea’s FA Cup final win last month because he could not be in the UK due to his “visa problems”.

And then, to make things a bit more complicated, it appears that he has suddenly acquired Israeli citizenship, under the Israeli “Law of Return”. This was rendered possible by his being Jewish.

And most recently it was reported that he had withdrawn his visa application and that he had cancelled plans for a new £1bn stadium plan for Chelsea FC.

The Home Office would not make any specific comment about Mr Abramovich’s case (as is their normal practice) but they did confirm - as indeed we already knew - that Tier 1 Investor applications are generally now being scrutinised more carefully than previously. And, more ominously, that previously-granted Tier 1 Investor visas are being re-scrutinised.

The Home Office never says that it is the Russians who are being exclusively targeted in this way, but everybody knows the way that the political winds are blowing at the moment. There must be at least a possibility that some rich Russians will have their Tier 1 Investor visas taken away, on the grounds that their investment funds were obtained fraudulently or illegally.

The Home Office also said that, even if Mr Abramovich had indeed acquired Israeli citizenship, this would only entitle him to come to the UK for a visit, and not to work.

This is one of those tangled tales where politics and immigration practice collide, and different media sources gave slightly different versions. It is not possible to work out the exact truth. But one thing that is true is what the Home Office said about Israeli citizenship. Israeli nationals are “non-visa” nationals, which means that they can come to the UK for a visit without any visitor visa but they cannot “work” in the UK within the legal meaning.

This is a slightly tricky subject because “work” may be difficult to define. A “business visitor” is allowed to carry out peripheral - but strictly limited - working activities. At any rate, if Mr Abramovich turns up at the UK border bearing his Israeli passport and asks to come in as a visitor, he will have to show that he intends to come as a genuine visitor and that he does not intend to carry out any non-permitted activities (and also that he has enough money in the bank to pay for his visit and return air fare - probably not a big problem in his case).

But it is a bit worse than this. The Home Office did not mention it, but if someone in his position were to fail to convince the immigration control at the airport that he was a genuine visitor then he would be refused leave to enter the UK and would very likely end up being sent back to where he had flown from. Such an “administrative removal” could result in a time period ban from the UK, which would be rather embarrassing.

The best course of action for a non-visa national who is worried that they might be refused leave to enter as a visitor is to apply for a UK visitor visa before coming to the UK; if it is refused they at least know where he stood.

And there is another thing: visitors, even if successfully admitted to the UK, cannot stay here for more than six months per 12 months. And, not only that, but they must not intend to “live in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits” - an obscure verbal formula that does not sound very welcoming. It is probable that somebody who seeks to come to the UK for the full six months every 12 months will run into difficulties.

In any event, the issues about his visa application are not entirely clear. If he has indeed withdrawn the visa application the burning question is Why? If true he has significantly cut off his connections with the UK. Perhaps more facts may emerge in the future and at the moment we can only speculate.

But the landscape for Russian Tier 1 Investors is looking rather fragile at the moment. We hasten to add that we are well aware - and despite the impression one might get from the media - that most Russian investors in the UK are upstanding and honest people.

If you need advice about your Tier 1 Investor visa you should approach a competent lawyer.


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