Roman Abramovich, the wealthy Russian owner of Chelsea Football Club, is awaiting a new UK visa after reports that his application to renew his previous one, which expired, has been delayed. Current high diplomatic tensions between Russia and the UK have led to speculation about the reasons for the delay. Jo Wilding, an expert in immigration law, explains the procedure involved in renewing the particular type of visa Abramovich is applying for.
Roman Abramovich held a visa to the UK – what is that and what are the conditions for renewing it?
His visa is an investor visa, which comes under Tier 1 of the points-based system within the Immigration Rules. It is “for high net worth individuals making a substantial financial investment to the UK”. The applicant has to intend to invest at least £2m in the UK (excluding property investments), and show they actually have that money under their control.
A successful applicant can stay for up to 40 months and can apply for settlement after two, three or five years, depending on how much money they invest.
Normally the visa should be issued within eight weeks of the application, although it can take longer if it’s “complicated”, for example because of the applicant having a criminal conviction. An application to extend the visa can also be refused based on the general grounds for refusal in paragraph 322 of the Immigration Rules, for previous breaches of the rules, claiming public funds – unlikely in the Abramovich case – use of deception in the application, or links to terrorism and criminal activity.
It is worth adding that his visa only expired at the end of April 2018. We don’t know when he applied to renew it, only that unnamed sources say it’s “taking longer than usual” to renew.
He didn’t turn up to the FA cup final, which started a rush of speculation, but we don’t know whether he was planning to go anyway. So the whole thing may be a storm in a teacup.
Is the government planning to change the Tier 1 investment visa system?
There’s no indication that the government intends to change the Tier 1 system itself. It introduced new procedures in 2015 for investigating how the proposed investment money was obtained – a bit like the “due diligence” checks businesses have to make under money laundering regulations.
Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003, long before these checks came into effect. In March the Home Office announced a review of Tier 1 visas granted in recent years, and the then-home secretary, Amber Rudd, said the department would be looking at how Russians with the investor visa had made their money.
This follows the worsening of UK-Russia relations and seems to mean that visas granted before the checks were introduced will be subject to checks when they are renewed. Since the visa lasts for 40 months, that includes Abramovich. If that is the case, he’s likely to have to explain how he made his money.
Has Abramovich been caught up in the UK’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy?
It’s unlikely. The government is really not so hostile to the very wealthy. It is possible, however, that his application has been caught up in Home Office delays. Asylum applicants, including children and people from Syria, are currently facing delays of well over a year in getting asylum interviews, let alone decisions. A team of Home Office staff has been transferred to work on cases involving members of the Windrush generation caught up in the recent scandal involving their citizenship.
Some overseas visa posts have long delays. To save costs, the UK’s overseas posts have been consolidated into 16 decision making centres or “hubs”, taking in applications from the “spokes” in different cities and countries.
The most recent inspection by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration was of the Croydon and Istanbul hubs in July 2017. It found the Croydon post was significantly understaffed, workers were expected to make 70 to 75 visa decisions per day, and applications were being inappropriately marked as “complex” to take them out of the time targets. In Istanbul, visit visa applications received an average of three minutes’ attention each from the decision maker.
So there are two main possibilities: either the Home Office has decided to reconsider Abramovich’s visa in light of the new checks introduced in 2015, so it’s taking longer, or he’s caught up in the Home Office understaffing issue which is affecting so many other people – often much more severely.
If Abramovich’s visa is refused, what recourse to appeal would he have?
There are no appeals for points-based system cases since the Immigration Act 2014 came into force – only administrative reviews, which are carried out by the Home Office itself. In 2017, the independent chief inspector found that overseas administrative reviews were still not carried out properly. The reviewer was not always sufficiently independent from the decision maker and often failed to carry out a full reconsideration, partly because they didn’t keep a full record of the evidence submitted.
And the success rate on administrative reviews was tiny – 8% for in-country reviews, compared to a success rate in almost half of appeals to the Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the Tribunal, for cases which retain a right of appeal, including human rights and asylum applications.
If an administrative review upholds the visa refusal, the only remedy is to apply to the high court for judicial review. For Abramovich, the cost of that is unlikely to be a problem, but for a lot of people it is prohibitive, especially as they risk having to pay the Home Office’s costs as well if they lose. This is all the more destructive for people who are in the UK and not permitted to work while fighting their case.