With reports over the weekend that Roman Abramovich’s Tier 1 Investor application is subject to an unusual and on-going delay, this article explores the relevant provisions of the Tier 1 Investor visa route and considers what could be the sticking point for Roman.
A report emerged from a Russian website, uncontested by Roman’s inner circle, that Roman applied to extend his visa 3 weeks ago and had not yet received a decision.
This delay would not be unusual if Roman was applying using the standard postal service: decisions through this method can take 6 months or longer and involve biometric enrolment at a Post Office. However, with Roman’s £9.3bn net worth, he would not balk at the £12,733 Super Premium fee, which buys him Home Office attendance at a location of choice to collect biodata – and, usually, a decision within 24 hours. So what is keeping the Secretary of State?
Roman’s current visa position
We do not know Roman’s immigration history, but the maximum visa duration is 3 years and four months (if the application was for entry clearance). Given reports of his visa expiring in April this year, he must have been granted his present Investor visa no earlier than December 2014 (and much later if the application was an in-country application). Measures to tighten the Rules were introduced on 6 November 2014. However, given that Roman would probably use the Super Premium Service, which usually provides a decision within 24 hours, his current leave was probably decided under the post-November 2014 regime.
Roman’s new application could be for indefinite leave to remain (ILR), under the standard qualifying route of 5 years’ Investor leave to remain, provided he satisfies the key requirement of having invested at least £2 million in the UK. However, given his wealth, Roman would surely look to apply for ‘accelerated ILR’, which can be achieved by upping the investment to at least £10 million. This brings the qualifying route down to just 2 years.
What could be causing the delay?
Roman is in the fortunate position of being able to employ a team of legal experts to make sense of the UK’s increasingly complex points-based system of immigration control. It was described by Lord Justice Jackson as having “achieved a degree of complexity which even the Byzantine Emperors would have envied’.
But even experts cannot predict the future. Previously, ILR applicants were permitted up to 180 days’ absence from the UK, over any fixed year of the qualifying period. This was calculated by looking back at each fixed 12 months interval of the qualifying period. This allowed some flexibility: applicants could meticulously record absences and plan so that periods of high absence fell into different twelve months periods. However, any careful planning went out the window when, on 11 January 2018, the 180 days rule was tightened. From then an applicant could not be absent for 180 days during any 12 months period of the qualifying period. Could this rule change, applied with retrospective effect, have caught out Roman’s jet-set lifestyle?
More likely, the real issue runs deeper than this. Seemingly in response to the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal (allegedly by Russian agents) the government committed to reviewing the visas of wealthy Russians who came to the UK prior to the tightening of the Tier 1 Investor Scheme on 6 November 2014. However, as noted above, Roman was probably granted a visa in accordance with post-6 November 2014 Rules.
Roman’s close links to the Russian President Vladimir Putin are well-known and the delay could be a retaliatory move following the poisoning of Skripal. Nonetheless, any move to refuse Roman’s application would be highly controversial, and of course any refusal notice is obliged to give clear reasoning for any refusal.
Current Investor rules allow for refusal where money has been ‘acquired by means of conduct which is unlawful in the UK, or would constitute unlawful conduct if it occurred in the UK’. This provision was introduced on 6 November 2014 and therefore Roman’s current visa probably passed this provision.
General Grounds of Refusal will be considered in Roman’s case. This includes controversial paragraph 322(5) – under which 1000s of highly skilled migrants have reportedly had indefinite leave to remain applications refused Refusal under this paragraph has occurred even for making minor amendments to tax returns, in circumstances where no prior criminal or HMRC proceedings had been instigated. Paragraph 322(5) gives the Secretary of State broad powers to refuse based on ‘conduct, character or associations’. But again, Roman’s earlier visa approvals likely passed this test.
This delay in decision-making comes after a recent Foreign Affairs Select Committee Report stated in uncompromising terms: “The UK must be clear that the corruption stemming from the Kremlin is no longer welcome in our markets and we will act.”
The political noise suggests a refusal could be forthcoming, but this would be a dramatic turnaround by the Secretary of State given the previous green light. Furthermore, given Roman’s integration into UK life and his ownership of Chelsea FC, this probably is just noise, and is simply a move to make Roman feel slightly less welcome than before.