Can Roman Abramovich work in the UK?/Visitor rules

Fans and followers of Chelsea Football Club are no doubt interested to know that the owner, famous Russian Roman Abramovich, apparently has no intentions to sell at the moment. This is despite the fact that he failed to renew his Tier 1 Investor visa and, as far as anybody knows, he no longer holds any kind of UK visa.

His failure to renew his visa is shrouded in mystery; from the media one gets the impression that he withdrew the application, rather than that the application was refused, but the Home Office is not telling.

In any event, he has evidently received a consolation prize, in the form of Israeli citizenship, under the Israeli “Law of Return”. This very liberal law enables a person who can show Jewish descent to acquire such citizenship, and very quickly.

Another interesting fact about Israeli citizenship is that it confers non-visa national status under British immigration law, ie an Israeli national does not necessarily need a visitor visa to get on to an airliner (or, according to taste, a private jet), fly to the UK, and be admitted through immigration control as a visitor.

So is an Israeli passport a good substitute for a Tier 1 Investor visa, as some parts of the media seemed to imply? No, we fear not. A Tier 1 Investor visa offers a route to settlement and British citizenship whereas a non-visa national passport of course does not. And a Tier 1 Investor can remain in the UK 100 per cent of the time if they want to whereas a visitor cannot.

There is a basic rule that a visitor cannot spend more than half their time in the UK because, if they do, they look less like a “visitor” and more like a “resident”. There is a compelling and surely inescapable logic about this, and this was the relatively straightforward legal situation in the old days. But in the last few years some extra immigration rules have been introduced which seem to tighten up the position – probably we suppose part of the Government’s “hostile environment” project.

There is now also the following requirement: a visitor must not “live in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits”. Lawyers, linguists and philosophers may struggle to work out the exact meaning of these words, but they do seem to provide a lot of extra discretion to immigration officers, and rather indicate that even somebody who is following the “less than half their time in the UK” rule may be deemed to be on the wrong side of the fence.

This is all rather tricky but, quite apart from this, what the working rights for visitors in the UK? Can somebody like Mr Abramovich work here anymore? You may read here and there that visitors are not allowed to work, but this is only partly true and – like most things to do with the Home Office – is quite complicated.

Visitors are allowed to carry out certain working activities, such as attending meetings or negotiating and signing contracts, but any working activities “deeper” than this are not permitted. Certainly, a visitor is not allowed to march along to the office every day with bowler hat and umbrella (according to taste), sit at a desk and work 9 to 5. But of course now we live in the internet age. The internet in many cases enables people to work in the comfort of their living room or their favourite coffee shop or indeed anywhere else. It is often very difficult to know if a person is working or not.

This of course tends to create something of a credibility problem, and it has provided the opportunity for some immigration humourists to pose the rhetorical question: how do you convince UK border control that you are not coming here to work if you own one of the UK’s most famous football clubs?

Bearing this in mind, we would like to advise Mr Abramovich (and indeed anybody else in a similar position) that, if you want to visit the UK, the best course of action is to apply beforehand to the British Embassy for a UK visitor visa, even though it is not a legal requirement. If it is granted then well and good; it will greatly increase your chances of getting successfully into the UK. And if it is refused you will be able to challenge the decision by way of Judicial Review if it seems unfair or irrational.

This should at any rate prevent the embarrassment of sticky situations at UK immigration control.


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