With the UKBA's requirement for a Tolstoyesque dossier of details on visa applicants, one may be able to sympathise with Roman Abramovich's immigration troubles, writes Jessica Zimmerman
The requirements now imposed on lawyers, accountants, estate agents and nearly everybody with whom you might want to do business these days, call for a client to provide the Tolstoyesque historical tome of the origins of his wealth, how it was generated, intricate and complex structure charts resembling those Magic Eye puzzles from the 90s which make you go a bit dizzy if you stare at them long enough and even the name of a six-month-old baby beneficiary of, heaven forbid, an offshore trust.
The UK government came in for a bit of proverbial flack in respect of the Tier 1 visa, and in 2015 introduced new rules to tighten up on potential abuses relating to 'source of wealth'. The changes require the Home Office to have consideration to the applicant’s conduct, character, associations or any other reason which might give rise to grounds for refusal. This power and requirement is clearly justified, but shouldn’t an applicant be given the opportunity to make his own initial representations if they do, in the background, have concerns over his character?
So what does a Tier 1 (Investor) Visa applicant have to show to the Home Office as evidence of his source of funds on an initial application? Basically a few bank statements and, if the investment funds are coming from outside of the UK, a letter from the bank confirming that the funds are available for transfer to the UK if the application is successful. The 2015 changes also require each applicant to have opened a UK bank account prior to the application. Essentially, it looks as if the Home Office were outsourcing the anti-money laundering source of wealth checks to the banks. Is that it you might ask? Pretty much. In that respect, is it possible that Mr Abramovich has been treated unfairly if he has, presumably, been able to provide evidence of his UK investments and UK account?
While we do not know the details of each individual case (and the delay to his extension application could be due to a number of reasons or deficiencies in the application), it would be harsh on an individual to be denied a visa extension if he has ostensibly met the requirements. The Home Office surely cannot expect an applicant to provide more information than is required of him under the immigration rules. If the Home Office is not satisfied the that the UK banks are doing their homework properly then they should change the rules and ask applicants directly, to provide their own versions of War and Peace.
On the other hand, no individual who is not a British national (or an EEA national, for the time being) has an automatic right to come to and live in the UK. The Tier 1 visa was introduced some years ago as a means of attracting foreign investors to the UK to help to boost the economy. The Tier 1 visa is not given gratuitously, nor out of the goodness of the UK Government’s heart, but it is something that it has chosen to make available, with no obligation to do so, and you could argue that it is up to the UK Government to do what it wants to do with it. There are wide grounds for refusing a visa and if the UK Government doesn’t like the colour of your money, with or without having carried our rigorous checks, then they have the power to say so. Not that it would of course, in so many words, actually say so.
The political issue is, that despite all the changes to the non-dom tax regime, the introduction of company and trust registers and the proposed introduction of the offshore property owning company register, the UK is still perceived as being too accommodating to a very small number of individuals who might abuse the system and the Tier 1 (Investor) Visa seems to be the latest under attack.
Jessica Zimmerman is a senior associate and boutique private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP