Once again, social media and the sports pages of newspapers have been littered with references to UK immigration rules due to the pending visa for Manchester United’s £16M new signing, Marcos Rojo, which could have delayed (or even prevented) his ability to play for a club who, some say, are in dire need of a good defender.

Although the topic of immigration has seen growing interest over the last few years, it rarely appears on the sports or celebrity pages unless it means that someone has fallen foul of the UK immigration system due to lack of the correct permission to remain, correct entry visa or permission to work.  Take the case of Makosi Musambasi, who found herself on the wrong side of immigration law after leaving her job as a cardiac nurse, for which she had working permission, to appear on Big Brother, for which she did not.

In Rojo’s case, it appears that the issue was not about his actual “work permit”, which for sportspersons can be either the Tier 2 (Sportsperson) or the Tier 5 (Creative and Sporting) categories of the Points Based System (in his case more likely to be Tier 2 as it is a five year contract), but with regard to the issue of the “visa” that is applied for by the migrant after the work permit is assigned. 

In this situation, the visa problem allegedly occurred due to a dormant indictment from an altercation with a neighbour in 2010, an investigation which the Argentine authorities decided to reopen in May of this year.  Rojo is joining Manchester United from Sporto CP in Lisbon, where he signed a four year contract in 2012.  One would assume, therefore, that he was given permission to work by the Portuguese authorities after the date of the alleged altercation and indictment.  The Portuguese authorities appear not to have had issues with this indictment, and it could be that this issue has arisen simply because the Argentine authorities had reopened the case.

Despite media suggestions to the contrary, Rojo wasn’t singled out for what some may call unfair treatment.  Strict guidelines are issued to visa officers in British Consulates around the world and some of these guidelines are designed to prevent the grant of a visa to someone, regardless of their position or world-wide reputation, who may not be suitable to live in the UK, e.g. because of pending criminal investigation or charges overseas.  On the basis of “innocent until proven guilty”, if there is an outstanding indictment or charge, the visa officers are instructed to put the application on hold (rather than outright reject) until either the indictment or charge is withdrawn or the matter is dealt with in court.  If the applicant is then found to be innocent or the charge is dropped, the visa application will go ahead and, provided there are no other adverse issues, the visa granted.  Should the applicant be found guilty, the grant of the visa will depend upon the level of the punishment given. 

In all UK immigration matters, there is nonetheless an element of discretion allowed by the immigration officials, and the ultimate granting of a visa yesterday for Rojo may have been an example of this right being exercised or indeed the charges of his indictment being dropped.

Immigration lawyers were momentarily kept on the edge of their seats along with thousands of Man U fans, for whom the decision on Rojo’s visa and his signing brings them hope of bringing the club back to its former glory.

This case highlights the importance of managing expectations at the very beginning of any appointment dependant on a UK visa; it is critical that full disclosure is made to the Visa Officer and that any issues arising are addressed by representations setting out mitigating circumstances.