Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, whose Tier 1 Investor visa is apparently subject to processing delays, has reportedly been granted Israeli citizenship. The media coverage of the Russian billionaire’s visa woes heavily implies that this is to ensure that he can continue travelling to the UK despite no longer having a visa allowing him to live here full-time.
Unlike Russians, who must always obtain a visa before travelling to the UK, Israeli citizens benefit from being able to visit the UK without first needing to get a visa.
But are visitors able to run Premier League football clubs (or do any other work for that matter)?
As always when it comes to UK immigration law, it’s complicated.
Permitted business activities for all visitors
Visitors are not permitted to work in the UK on a paid or unpaid basis unless expressly permitted. Buried deep in the Immigration Rules (Appendix V, Appendix 3), is a section called “PERMITTED ACTIVITIES FOR ALL VISITORS”.
Appendix V, Appendix 3, Paragraph 5 (a-g) (I understand the Home Office genuinely wants to make the rules more user-friendly) confirms that visitors can perform the following general business activities:
- attend meetings, conferences, seminars, interviews;
- give a one-off or short series of talks and speeches provided these are not organised as commercial events and will not make a profit for the organiser;
- negotiate and sign deals and contracts;
- attend trade fairs, for promotional work only, provided the visitor is not directly selling;
- carry out site visits and inspections;
- gather information for their employment overseas;
- be briefed on the requirements of a UK based customer, provided any work for the customer is done outside of the UK.
owning a football club.
Whilst “owning a football club” does not of itself appear on the list, it probably is possible (depending on the exact financial and other arrangements) to do a number of activities that are involved with owning said club such as:
- attending board meetings and meetings with the coach and top management team
- giving interviews to television etc
- giving speeches at awards ceremonies and so on
- inspecting the club and team
Generally business visitors cannot be paid, other than reasonable expenses, for activities performed in the UK. (There are some exceptions relating to, for example, multi-national organisations.)
Permitted business activities for specific visitors
The permitted activities for business visitors do not end there. Perhaps of less relevance to a Premier League football club owner, if you dig further into Appendix V, Appendix 3 you come across permitted “Intra-corporate activities”. Employees of overseas companies can also (in addition to the above activities):
- advise and consult
- provide training
- share skills and knowledge; on a specific internal project with UK employees of the same corporate group, provided no work is carried out directly with clients
There are also even more rules for particular groups: prospective entrepreneurs, manufacturers and suppliers of goods to the UK, clients of UK export companies, those in science, research and academia, expert witnesses and lawyers, religious ministers, artists, entertainers and musicians and sport-persons.
A famous visitor may feel more comfortable when accompanied by a bodyguard on their trip to the UK.
Not a problem!
Appendix V, Appendix 3, Paragraph 21 (b) allows bodyguards to accompany the individual providing the bodyguard is not providing “personal care” for the business person. Personal care is not defined.
Is entry at the border guaranteed?
Border Force Officers — including the really friendly ones who personally greet those arriving on private planes — have the power to examine anyone seeking entry to the UK for any reason. Entry can be refused if the officer is not satisfied that the person is a genuine visitor, suspects they may intend to work or determines that there are other grounds to deny entry. A visitor can be banned from the UK if they provide false information to the Border Force Officer.
Having a passport that allows entry as a visitor on a visa-free basis definitely helps to avoid some of the UK’s red tape. Business visitors do need to ensure, though, that their activities are permitted.