Chelsea’s stadium plans put on hold due to visa issues
Chelsea FC are the latest in a long line of London football clubs to be looking at upgrading their stadium. As has been covered in a previous blog post, it has never been more important for football clubs to invest heavily in their stadia to ensure both sporting and commercial success.
However, Chelsea’s proposed redevelopment of Stamford Bridge, which would increase its capacity from just over 40,000 to 60,000, has not gone without its issues. An earlier post has already documented the real estate problems this project has encountered. Having resolved these issues, the club now faces a problem brought about by visa issues surrounding its Russian billionaire owner – Roman Abramovich.
As a Russian citizen, Mr Abramovich held a Tier 1 (Investor) visa. It has been reported that although he submitted an in time application to extend his visa, this expired some weeks ago whilst he was outside the UK, and as a result he was unable to return to the UK to attend the FA Cup Final. This has led to the Chelsea owner stating he will not commit to invest in a redevelopment in a country where he may not be permitted to work or conduct business, hence the stalling of the project.
The investor visa has been a popular route in to the UK for wealthy non-EEA/non-Swiss individuals since its creation in 2008. To apply, an individual must intend to invest at least £2,000,000 in the UK economy, although there are requirements about the nature of the investments, and the source of funds. If granted, the visa allows UK residency for the investor and family dependents for an initial period of three years, with the potential to extend, and apply for settlement after 5 years (subject to satisfying requirements in relation to absence, and completing a Life in the UK test). It is possible to apply for settlement in less than 5 years if investments are over £2m (i.e., within 2 years if the investment is £10m, and 3 years if the investment is £5m).
New reports suggest that Mr Abramovich has withdrawn his application for an extension, and there have been suggestions that the delay in determining his application lay in the requirement for individuals to provide evidence of the source of their wealth. This requirement was introduced by the Home Office in April 2015, presumably shortly after Mr Abramovich’s visa was approved. Applicants for visas or extensions must provide evidence of where their money is being held and where their money came from, if they have not held it for at least three months.
The Billionaire owner used his Jewish heritage to become a citizen of Israel, who grant citizenship to any Jewish individual wishing to move there, and also have far less stringent laws surrounding source of wealth than the UK, such as not needing to disclose any foreign-based assets or earnings for ten years.
Travelling as an Israeli citizen, Mr Abramovich can enter the UK without securing a visa in advance although he will still need to satisfy an entry clearance officer of the purpose of his visit. Whilst his new passport may ease arrangements for business visits in the UK, it will not allow him to live in the UK on a long-term basis.
It should be noted that there has been no suggestion that Mr Abramovich has been involved in any wrongdoing. However, it has put a halt to the club’s plans for its new stadium.
Chelsea issued a statement that “it has put its new stadium project on hold. No further pre-construction design and planning work will occur.” It was stated that the decision was made “due to the current unfavourable investment climate.”
It was previously reported that Chelsea had been considering playing its matches at Wembley for the 4 years it would have taken to redevelop Stamford Bridge. However, those plans would also have been complicated by news that Fulham owner Shahid Khan offered £600m to buy the stadium from The FA.
Chelsea’s plans to be playing in a redeveloped Stamford Bridge by the beginning of the 2024-25 season seems unlikely unless Abramovich can be persuaded that the UK’s ‘hostile immigration environment’ does not apply to him.